Acts 19: 11-20

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. 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.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 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. 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. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 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. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul was doing extraordinary miracles in Ephesus. But sinful men always take God’s gifts and pollute them. The people wanted healings. How can they make it happen? What was the cause of healing? When Paul touched someone God healed them. But why? It had to be something special with Paul. Perhaps it was the moisture or sweat from his body.

They took the cloth he used to wipe his brow. They took his work apron. If it was the sweat these items would do it. They believed there was magic in Paul.

They noticed Paul always healed in the name of the Lord Jesus. They could utter those words and that would cause God to heal. Those words must be magic.

Superstitious? Yes. But how is that different than what many teach today? “Say these things.” “Stand this way.” “You must kneel.” “You must lay prostrate.” “Believe, really believe.” We look for ways to manipulate God. The bookshelves are full of books telling us to get God to do our will. You only need to follow their secret formula. Books like The Prayer of Jabez or Sun Stand Still, Battle Plan for Prayer. They give us formulas to pray. Pray as they outline and God will do your bidding. Be careful. When we try to manipulate God to do our will we try to make ourselves god.

God performed miracles through Paul to establish Paul’s apostleship. Some of the Jewish exorcists in Ephesus invoked Jesus’ name. They thought they found new magic words, “In the name of Jesus.” They did not know Jesus. They were not commissioned by Jesus. They assumed a right which was not theirs. The results were disastrous for them and instructional for us.

We read, “Jewish exorcists.” In previous times God exercised His power through the prophets. Here these men claimed to drove out devils under God’s power. That is they were claiming to be prophets. Prophets spoke for God. These men claimed power and authority which was not theirs.

The same occurs today. The Book of Acts mentions several sign gifts. It mentions them several times. This passage is only one of them. According to the Bible, sign gifts were from God. The Bible does not say the gifts went away or ended. Many assume they exist. Many of these claim to have these gifts. They assume the position which is not theirs. They assume the office of apostle or prophet. They ignore why miracles ever existed. They assume, “The apostles did it. I can too.” They assume they need to learn the secret formula to bend God to their will. They claim to speak for God when God has not spoken.

What happens in this story is one of the funniest stories in the Bible. Sevens sons of a Jewish high priest tried to imitate an apostle. They went to a demon processed man. They uttered the magic words. “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” In ancient times it was common practice to use magical names to drive out evil spirits. These guys presumed invoking Jesus’ name gave them power.

The evil spirit answered them. “I know Jesus. And I know Paul. But who are you?” What right do you have telling me what to do? The man with the evil spirit jumps them and beat the snot out of them. He tore their clothes off. So they ran for their life. They ran out of the house naked. The evil spirit showed them they were powerless against him. Their “magic” words, “in Jesus’ name,” was nothing more than noise.

The same happens today. I have listened to many preach a false gospel. They will sight scripture. They will claim to give glory to God. They may be pure frauds Or they may have deceived themselves. They recite scripture like the Bible is a book of magic incantation. Or even invoking Jesus’ name as if it were a magic word is blaspheme. There is no power in magic words or incantations. But many who hear them will say, “They quoted the Bible.” Yes, but they ignore what God is saying. They ignore the good news. That Christ died for our sins. And forgives and peace with God awaits use through the power of Jesus’ blood.

As you can imagine naked men running out of the house drew some attention. It was the talk of the town. Everyone in Ephesus knew about it. As a result, they were fearful. God achieved His purpose. They praised the Lord Jesus. God had used evil men and an evil spirit to bring praise to Himself. God used an evil spirit to helped spread the Gospel.

Many believed. They confessed their evil deeds. They received forgiveness. Several who believed had practiced the magical arts. These magical arts are not what we think of today as magic. This was not what we see on television shows like “Fool Us” and “America’s Got Talent” There were occur practices. Calvin makes this point in his commentary on Acts 19:19. “Luke doth not only speak of magical jugglings, but of frivolous and vain studies, whereof the more part of men is for the most part too desirous. For he useth the word, περιεργα, under which the Grecians comprehend whatsoever things have in themselves no sound commodity, but lead men’s minds and studies through diverse crooks unprofitably. Such is judicial astrology, as they call it, and whatsoever divinations men invent to themselves against the time to come.”

They burned their magic books. They burned them to cut off any means of going back to their previous practice. They did not want themselves or others to fall into the err in their past ways. We would do well to follow their example. Remove all temptation from us. These were expensive books. But the price was of not significance when compared to the treasure they received. They received the greatest treasure of all the Lord Jesus.

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