God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.Acts 19:11-12 (NRSV)
So here Paul was, working at his trade of making water-proof tents in the early morning, then teaching in the style of Socrates for four or five hours at the gymnasium every day, and ending his long days by walking through the streets every late afternoon and early evening, evangelizing.
And, to authenticate his message, God did extraordinary miracles through Paul.
Picture Paul never alone, but rather throngs of people teeming around him, trying to get in close enough to hear what he was saying, and trying to get in close enough for him to lay hands on them. Did he, one day, take his handkerchief, raise it up to God, pray over it, then send it through the crowd to the one who had been crying out to him? Or, did someone say, “My little child is so very sick, and we’ve come to you for help. Will you pray over my apron, so we may bring it back and lay it on our child?”
Paul probably did not start the habit of sending out his kerchiefs and clothes, but however it began, soon word got out that even something touched by Paul carried the healing power of God Himself. Yet, the miracles that resulted from this glorified God, not Paul or the clothing. Physical healings were always meant to be a sign pointing towards the real miracle, birth into new and eternal life, the spiritual healing of being restored to God.
And then we get this weird little story about the seven sons of Sceva.
Evidently, not only had Paul been laying hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit, and to be miraculously healed, but he had also been casting out demons, and other local exorcists had gotten wind of it. Exorcising evil spirits was actually a long-standing practice in Judaism. Even Jesus had explained why He was able to cast out certain demons where Jewish exorcists had been powerless.
On at least two occasions Jesus had sent out His disciples, along with 72 others, to spread the good news of God’s kingdom come, and to validate their message by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, causing the deaf and dumb to hear and speak, and by casting out demons. Now, Paul was carrying on in Jesus’ command.
The Sons of Sceva wanted in!
Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use 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 said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.Acts 19:13-16 (NRSV)
It seems these spiritists, or exorcisists, had mistakenly thought they were as powerful as Paul appeared to be at working miracles.
They thought all they had to do was use the magic incantation, “Jesus Christ” and get the job done, but their profession was not backed up by the reality of Jesus in their lives.
They had the form of godliness without the power.
When you and I read passages like this, the Bible leaves us with the impression that Satanic power is real and potent, and dabbling in it could become a serious matter.
According to the Bible, we are left vulnerable to a real being of evil when we experiment with witchcraft, or other occult practices, or try to face demonic forces without being made firm in Christ. It is better to have a healthy respect for Satan and his domain.
There are three points to consider:
1) Because of the cross, Satan is a defeated enemy. Affirming the truth of Jesus’ victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan is the first step in standing against this enemy.
2) The sons of Sceva were beaten badly by -pretending- to belong to Jesus and trying to use His name as their own power source. Once you and I have been born again by the Holy Spirit, we really do belong to Jesus, Who has all authority. We don’t have to worry about a power encounter with Satan. Jesus has done it already, and His victory is forever.
3) Still, it is our responsibility as believers to know and live by the truth. It is truth that sets free, and truth that protects against deception.
As random as this story might seem, it had a powerful effect on the residents of Ephesus,
When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck;
and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.
Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.Luke 19:17-18 (NRSV)
When the Ephesians saw what happened to these men, they were awed by the demonic power, and the holiness of the name of Christ.
Believers now were willing to confess what they had been hiding before, their stash of valuable sorcery books—worth about 10 million dollars in today’s economy.
They now recognized the evil in their secret astrology habits and dabbling with other kinds of non-Christian spiritualism. They were now ready for anything in their lives that was holding them back or compromising allegiance to God to be totally rejected and destroyed.
I wonder what the response would be today?
Depending on the researcher, only about half of Americans believe in the devil at all, today. And it’s mostly Christians (among that 50%) who believe in the existence of Satan. Only about 25% in the Muslim faith, and 17% in Jewish faith believe that.
And here’s where it gets even more interesting. Evidently, over 60% of Christians believe in evil, but not in the personification of evil.
I wonder what the apostle Paul would have thought about that? Or the seven sons of Sceva, for that matter?
Traditional Christian teaching on Satan begins with the story of his rebellion. Isaiah 14 depicts an angel named Lucifer accompanied by a large angelic force marching against God, recording the opposer’s intentions, “I will make myself like the Most High.”
He was portrayed as the most powerful, the most beautiful of all the angels, his name meaning “light-bearer,” “shining one,” “Son of the Dawn,” aspiring to be like God—not in terms of God’s love or grace, or in God’s wisdom and mercy, but rather by possessing all of heaven and all of earth. Lucifer wanted all the glory, acclamation, adoration, vast power and rule that was God’s.
Whenever I think of this story, I think of Lucifer, the perfect creation comparing himself to God’s only-begotten uncreated Son. To Lucifer’s eyes, they must have seemed exactly similar to each other, undifferentiated, equally deserving to be the heir of God.
God cast him out of heaven. Jesus said He saw Satan, which means “adversary,” fall like lightning from heaven.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
[Jesus] said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.
See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.”Luke 10:18-19 (NRSV)
Throughout the scriptures, the devil is called the prince of darkness, the father of lies, the accuser, the beguiling serpent, a murderer. The apostle Peter described him as a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is fierce, powerful, evil and all the more dangerous because he is a spiritual being, you and I can’t see him.
From the beginning Satan has been only for himself, he owns the world and receives worship from it, leading the whole world into sin and corruption, using the world to oppose God.
A third of God’s angels, now called demons, fell with him and have made this earth their dark world. The Bible talks about demons with the primary purpose of possessing humans. The apostle Paul pointed out that even though the pagan gods their idols represented didn’t actually exist, demons do exist, and they were behind all the pagan worship practices. Therefore, according to the apostle Paul, people who involved themselves then, and to this day, with false religion are really worshiping demons and are operating under demonic direction.
Throughout the Bible, Satan and his demons are described as causing physical or mental ailments such as blindness or self-torture. They have supernatural knowledge, superior strength, and an ability to foretell the future. In the New Testament, they recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God, and were afraid of Jesus because they had to obey His authority.
Demons are portrayed as real and powerful beings, not just vague forces of evil.
Although the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit both protects against and prevents demons from possessing a believer, Christians can be harassed, tempted, accused, be oppressed by and fall under the sway of demons.
According to both the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles Paul, Peter, and John, spiritual warfare is very real and human beings are both the battle ground and the prize.
Satan is completely opposed to everything of God, and he knows his time is limited.
Casting out Demons
“Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb; but when the devil had gone out the dumb man spoke, and the people were amazed. But some of them said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – Since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you. So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.’”