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  • Pastor Brett

Evil Spirit, Good Results

Please read Acts 19:13-20 in your favorite version of the Bible. I have used the NIV (1984) for the following remarks.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth. When it is conquered, the word prospers.

In our house lately we’ve been enjoying TV specials titled “Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” originally broadcast in the 90s. (Yes, we’re behind in watching our TV programs.) In each show, the “Masked Magician” performed magic tricks and then showed how the illusion was made.

This show was an example of “reality TV,” two words that don’t belong together in a sentence. Part of the gag is that this magician was masked to protect his identity from vengeful fellow magicians. In the last of the specials, he removed the mask to reveal himself to be Val Valentino, a man who’d been a stage magician all his adult life.

This is an example of magic being simply deception and illusion. Whether for fun or profit, to entertain or deceive, there have always been people who used the hand to trick the eye and the person.

In our passage today, we read about some con artists who attempted to incorporate the name of Jesus into their act. They were as surprised as anyone when a genuine evil spirit exposed them as false.

God used this extraordinary event to reach the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor in a very unique way. It’s not only a great story, but an event that reveals several things we need to learn and practice.

1. Sceva’s sons learned the hard way. (13-16)

We learn that they were just name-droppers (13-14). Before we go there, let’s take a brief look at “Jewish Mysticism.” As many cultures do, Jewish people have myths and superstitions. These have varying degrees of relatedness to Scripture.

In Paul’s day, some Jews made a living going from town to town performing magical services based on these superstitions. (I suspect you’d have to be ITINERANT just to stay ahead of being found out!) The Ephesians were especially superstitious. For example, they believed if you knew the name of a spirit you could control it. To, as the text says, EVOKE THE NAME refers to an incantation or magic formula using “power names” to make spells effective. Though this may sound strange or our ears, there is some NT mention of this activity:

-Jesus referred to Jewish exorcists sent out by the Pharisees in Luke 11:19 (see also Matthew 12:27).

- In Luke 10 He sent out 72 of His disciples to cast out demons & do other kinds of ministry.

- In Acts 16:18, Paul cast a demon out of a woman in Philippi while invoking the name of Jesus.

What’s happening in our passage is some of these people heard the name of Jesus had been powerfully used by Paul (the healings in vs. 11+12), so they gave it a try. They didn’t possess the faith that made the miracles possible, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The text tells us all we need to know about Sceva and sons. The name “Sceva” is neither Hebrew nor Greek; it is a misspelled Latin word that meant “left-handed” or “a good omen.” If their father was a JEWISH CHIEF PRIEST they would be members of one of the families from whom the Romans chose to be the Jews’ chief priests. (The Romans had politicized the office, making it no longer hereditary. Their theory was that shuffling the high priest job would keep any one man from becoming too influential.) The combination of a claimed

Jewish nobility and a Latinate name is unlikely to have been genuine; it implies these were con men. They probably weren’t really related!

The seven sons of Sceva failed spectacularly: ONE DAY, an evil spirit exposed their falsehood (15-16). Evil beings that exist as spiritual beings are also called demons. The Bible attests to the existence of these beings. No one can deny the reality of demons and claim to believe everything else the Bible teaches.

THE EVIL SPIRIT spoke through its human host and verified the identities of Jesus and Paul but didn’t have any idea who these frauds were; “WHO ARE YOU?” it asked. The power, then, was not in the names of Jesus and Paul. The power to cast out demons came from Jesus’ identity as God the Son and His delegating authority to Paul as His servant.

It exposed them as frauds. Adding injury to insult, the seven suffered public humiliation and a whuppin’. Though outnumbered seven to one, the demon-possessed man OVERPOWERED the sons of Sceva and sent them running out of the house, embarrassed and injured. This can hardly be accounted for by normal means, so a supernatural force is implied. The demon gave the possessed man unusual physical strength and/or overwhelming savagery.

2. As a result, the word grew in influence & power. (17-20)

As you would expect, news of an incident like this got around very quickly = THIS BECAME KNOWN TO THE JEWS AND GREEKS LIVING IN EPHESUS. THEY WERE ALL SEIZED WITH FEAR = It was taken very seriously. Our text list four effects.

The first effect is that this cured the “magic-using community” of name-dropping (17). Instead, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR. People respected the name of Jesus, no longer attempting to use it merely as a “magic word.” (Too bad that didn’t happen for Mr. Al Akazam!) People realized that the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS held power, but it was neither the kind of power they could manipulate, nor the kind to be trifled with! The phrase HELD IN HIGH HONOR means “glorified.” This implies worship of Jesus by people who converted to the Christian faith; as befits verse eighteen.

The second effect: confession of EVIL DEEDS (18). The new converts confessed to having committed EVIL DEEDS. Our text describes conversions in general terms in verse eighteen while verse nineteen offers an example of a specific act of repentance that put a value on the depth of their repentance.

The third effect was their voluntary decision to burn “magic” scrolls that had great material value but were spiritually worthless (19). The Lord does not require a set procedure for repentance. That’s a good thing, as we are saved by GRACE, not by GOOD WORKS. We are not operating under a legal system that requires specific actions to qualify as “true repentance.” It is also good because it shows the collection and burning of these SCROLLS was spontaneous and voluntary, which makes the act a more effective demonstration of repentance.

The actions of the converts in verse nineteen set a good example for us to follow when repenting. Repentance is turning our back on our sin and turning our face to God. We regret and reject our sins to seek God instead. Getting rid of the things that tempt us to return to sin and/or things that represent affections for worldly things is a

good idea, and it accomplishes three things:

- First, it removes a source of temptation. Jesus spoke of removing one’s right eye or hand if they cause you to sin (Matthew 5:27-30). This is a graphic way of describing a grave degree of sacrifice in order to gain separation from temptations.

- Second, when a person makes voluntary sacrifices like this, it says a lot about the depth of their commitment to Jesus.

- Third, making it public makes you accountable to everyone who sees what you are doing and will be watching in the future to see you don’t fall into that sin again.

Luke estimated the value of the destroyed texts to be 50,000 drachmas, or the wealth accumulated by a year’s work (no days off) of 137 men. This was a sacrifice!

The long-term effect was that the word prospered (20). People travelling out of Ephesus carried along the account of the demoniac beating the tar out of seven con artists and other testimonies to the POWER of the WORD OF THE LORD. That’s how it SPREAD WIDELY.

As the number of new converts continued to grow and their faith deepened, the WORD also GREW IN POWER. This also means there were more events of this type.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth. When it is conquered, the word prospers.

It’s a fact that things aren’t always as they appear. Consider what happened when two magicians went into a bakery.

One of the magicians palmed 3 donuts with one hand and put them in his pocket without anyone noticing. He whispered to his companion, "Do you see how masterful I am? I make donuts disappear at will!"

"Not bad," the second magician said. “I can do you one better.” He went to the baker and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick.

The curious owner answered, "Of course!" The second magician asked him for a donut then ate it. He asked him for another one, and ate it as well. When asked for a third donut, the owner was reluctant to give it up. "So what’s the magic trick?” he said with suspicion; “I gave you 2 donuts already!"

“Just one more,” he replied. After eating the third donut, the magician pointed to his companion and said, "Now check his pockets."

Our Bible passage this morning gives us a memorable example of how God turned what was intended for deception into a victory for His Church. When we live as the people of faith we are supposed to be, God works in us and with us to turn all things into good.

While we may not do the miraculous things done in Ephesus, God will use our faith and service to draw people to salvation. It starts with our decision to be entirely faithful, willing to trust Him in this promise.


More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

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