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Exorcisms for Sale

Acts  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Spiritual warfare is full of hucksters, tricksters and scam-artists. But underneath all of that is a real spiritual world with real spiritual forces desiring and conspiring towards our destruction. We are called to be victorious warriors before whom the demons flee. We see evil, real evil in the world. Systemic brokenness, racism in the system, violence in the streets... we must remember that we struggle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers.

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Elvis Impersonator

Little known fact: When I was ten years old, I was a world famous Elvis Impersonator.
Okay, maybe not. But I was famous for a brief minute in Los Angeles. They did a competition on “Good Morning LA”, one of those morning talk shows, for kid impressions.
and I did Elvis. I sang “Heartbreak Hotel...” live on camera. They interviewed me. The audience voted at home. I think there were multiple rounds.
And I won! 2nd place. A trip for four to Disneyland.
and for the rest of my life, people have been confusing me for Elvis. The resemblance is uncanny.
Who do you think you're fooling?
That’s never happened. I have never been confused for Elvis… and you really don’t want to hear my impression now. It was cute when I was a kid, maybe, but it didn’t get better from there.
Speaking of Elvis impersonators… Paul goes to Ephesus.

Paul Goes to Ephesus

Remember, while Apollos was out of town, Paul came to Ephesus. He planted the gospel, now he’s back, and he is going to stay for quite some time!
It is a city of darkness, heavily influenced by the temple and worship of Artemis. But here
Acts 19:8–9 ESV
And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.
Tyrannus, scholars think, is the name of the dude who owned the hall. Maybe he was an academic, maybe a teacher himself. This is the church-plant equivalent of renting out the local elementary school or high-school - a place that was available and large enough for people to gather. He taught there every day, presumably tent-making in Ephesus as he did in Corinth earlier. Remember that his co-workers - turned friends - turned Christian mentors, Priscilla and Aquila are also now in Ephesus.
Acts 19:10 ESV
This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Two YEARS Ephesus had Paul as pastor, as teacher, as evangelist. How awesome is that! New record! Longest recorded stay.
Acts 19:11–12 ESV
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 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.
This raises my bogus meter.
This is bizarre. It isn’t normal, this isn’t something we see often in Scripture. I think the risk is high here for abuse and misunderstanding.
This idea leads to the whole history of “holy relics” in the church, buying and selling them, faking them. A monastery might be built around a scrap of ancient cloth claiming to be one of these handkerchiefs.
And this feels like so much potential for money making. Get your handkerchief here, 1 gold, guaranteed to heal what ails you!
But Paul isn’t selling these… and I don’t think “handkerchief” is helpful here: the word just means “small cloth”. If Paul has, in fact, picked up his tentmaking, and later he specifies to the Ephesians that he “worked with his own hands while among them...” he is working with small cloth and aprons every day. Likely these are the scraps from tents, and perhaps his work aprons (or girdles).
Paul isn’t selling these, he isn’t profiting from them, he isn’t pushing them… but even more importantly: Who was doing the miracles?
God was doing these miracles… by the hands of Paul. This isn’t an everyday expectation, it isn’t a pattern in the rest of Paul’s ministry. There are a few extraordinary parallels, the woman touching Jesus’ cloak, people being healed by Peter’s shadow… but this is noteworthy because it is extraordinary!
And it wasn’t just the physically ill being healed… evil spirits were being cast out!
First mention of “evil spirits” since Paul in Philippi in Acts 16. There too it was about money, there is economic self-interest at plat, which leads to political challenge.
This is an important thing to remember about the Biblical worldview… very hard for 21st century Americans to get our heads around.
The Jews, the Romans, the Greeks, first century had no question that spiritual forces were real, spiritual beings had power and influence… and that a person could be afflicted or inflicted or possessed by an evil spirit.
This was just reality as they knew it. And it is the reality presented by Scripture. And, oh by the way, it is the reality we live in, but we’ll get to that.
They knew evil spirits existed. And they didn’t want to be afflicted with them generally. So a whole economy arose around being able to cast these evil spirits our. Professional exorcists!
That sounds like a joke to us, or a movie premise, maybe… but this has been everyday reality for most of the world through most of time. To this day, you go see the shaman or the witch doctor to help you with evil spirits.
And Paul is doing this for free, and so effortlessly, the professionals smell potential profit:
Acts 19:13 ESV
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.”
Trying to use the name of Jesus as a talisman, a ritual, a magic phrase.
Paul is Elvis in Ephesus… he just shakes a handkerchief and the demons faint… or flee.
Here these guys see what God is doing through Paul, confuse it with an act that Paul is putting on, and they decide to become Elvis impersonators, Paul impersonators.
What did we learn last week? It isn’t about saying the magic words or just the right ritual.
… but it’s all about who you know.
Acts 19:14 ESV
Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
sons of “a high priest” is a weird phrase, since there’s one high priest. But Luke is referring to family of elite Jewish families here, and the high priests were drawn from the same families.
What are seven sons of a Jewish high priest doing in Ephesus??? And what are they doing performing exorcisms for hire??? That’s what it means when they say “Jewish exorcists”, this isn’t their hobby, it’s their job!
To the Ephesians, the Jewish exorcist would be the knowledgeable foreigner, mystical and strange, bringing magics from afar.
They try the new “magic ritual”… but it’s all about who you know. And the evil spirit is not confused.
The name of Jesus is not a power to be controlled...
If you are His, you are given the privilege and responsibility of speaking in His name.
If you are not, it is nothing but words on the wind.
Acts 19:15 ESV
But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
AAAAAAAaaaaaahhhh!
Wouldn’t that freak you out? It should!
There is knowledge here. As if the evil spirit looked up these clowns on spiritual wikipedia… “I see Jesus here, obviously, and under the name of people belonging to Jesus, speaking with his power, his authority… there I see Paul.”
“Sons of Sceva… nope, not on there. You’ve got no power, you’ve got no authority, you have no right to call on the name of Jesus.” And that is permission for free reign.
Acts 19:16 ESV
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.
They didn’t start naked. One dude, beat them so bad their clothes fell off! All six of them beat up by that one dude. Supernatural. Terrifying.
What happened so effortlessly for Paul, such that his work scrap cloths could drive out demons… for these 6 pretenders was so much more than they could handle!
And a story like that, you know it’s going to spread. That is headline news!
Acts 19:17 ESV
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.
Extolled. Greatly magnified! The church is growing like wildfire in Ephesus, the name of Jesus is being made famous!
Acts 19:18 ESV
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.
These are believers… now they see the power of Jesus, that he is the real deal, that he has power over supernatural forces… now they confess that they’ve been holding back.
They’ve been practicing something else on the side:
Acts 19:19 ESV
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.
These were believers, confessing that they were also practicing magic and sorcery! Spells as an insurance policy in case their newfound faith proved inadequate.
I’ll put 70% of my stock in Jesus and 30% in magic and sorcery… just to diversify my portfolio!
That may sound silly… especially if you believe magic and sorcery are totally bogus (and I think you’re wrong there)… that may sound silly, but we do that in 100 other ways.
Some trust in Jesus, some trust in other things. Other worldviews, just in case, other securities, just in case… keep my options open in case this whole “Jesus thing” doesn’t work out.
The Ephesians see the power of Jesus revealed… and the absolute poverty of anything else in comparison… and they go all in. They burn their magic books, however much they thought they were worth, fifty thousand silver… If those were silver denari, that’s about 5.5 million dollars. Bonfire!
But of no value compared to the powerful name of Jesus!
Acts 19:20 ESV
So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
And the Kingdom of God grew. No accident, these believers were all in. All the way. Willing to sacrifice everything else.
So the word of the Lord continued to increase. Prevail mightily. All He does is win win win, no matter what what what.

Evil is Real

The spiritual realm is real. Demons or “evil spirits” are real. That’s what my Bible teaches. That’s what my experience teaches. I have seen and experienced some things that I have no other explanation for… other than that an evil spirit was speaking through my friend, my family member, acting or influencing.
We can hear that in a few ways.
In the “Satanic Panic” of the 80s. We can err by fearing evil spirits at every turn. Retreat from the world, it’s too scary out there.
If the devil can convince you he is terrifying, that’s a win for him.
Is that what Paul did in Ephesus? Nope, the demons fled from his handiwork, much less his presence.
An equal and opposite error from “there’s a devil under every bush” is the naive notion that there is no devil, no evil spirits, maybe even no spiritual dimension at all. If the devil can convince you he non-existent and ridiculous, that’s a win for him.
You won’t fight won’t you won’t admit exists.
The Biblical world view attests that there is not only generic “evil” out there in the world, but personal evil, both embodied in men and in actual evil spirits.
And you and I are called to be spiritual warriors… as well as other kinds of warriors.

Evil is Real, the Church is Called to Fight

So when we see evil like that George Floyd video… we can fight it. We can fight on the political front, we can stand alongside “Black Lives Matter” and say “That is evil!” And do everything in our power as citizens to fight racism wherever and whenever and however we can.
We, church, we can do that.
My FaceBook wall is full of people wondering how to truly help.
And there are some great ideas. My favorite: stop virtue-signalling on Facebook and lean forward: listen and learn, hear the stories and the hearts of the wounded, of the unheard, of the oppressed.
But that’s not all we are empowered to do.
There are sides here, it is us-vs-them… there is war… not between majority and minority, whites and Persons of Color...
there is a war between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness, and we, church, are uniquely called to be spiritual warriors.
Citizens of the Kingdom of God.
And likewise, when we see things turn to violence and looting. That is evil in the hearts of men… we call evil evil, and we are equipped to fight the spiritual battle there too.
So, people of God, Paul writes to the Ephesians to prepare them for this. Here is how you prepare, here is how you fight on the spiritual front:
Ephesians 6:10–18 ESV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
Suit up, church.
Let’s do that now. Praying in the Spirit.
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