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A Great Book-Burning
In 18:20 we see for the first time Paul in Ephesus and against the wishes of some of the people there, he can’t stay long. But on taking leave of them, v21, he said, “I will return to you if God wills.”
As it turns out, God did will it because in ch19, we find Paul in Ephesus, and we find him doing what he always does.
V8, speaking boldly, reasoning and persuading people about the kingdom of God.
Urging people, as John put it last week, to come all the way to Jesus, and not to go passed Jesus, because Jesus is the king of the kingdom. Why wouldn’t you want to come all the way to the King. Why would you want to go past the King?
We read in v10, that this continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
What happens when the word of the Lord is heard? What impact does that have?
In the verses that follow, we get a snapshot, a small picture of what happens.
I think that’s the point, because from v11-19 we see some things going on (or coming off as the case may be), and then at the end of our passage we see that same phrase, in V20, the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
When God’s Word is heard and spreads and prevails what can we expect to happen, even today, what does God do?
Well, something rather extraordinary and miraculous.
While Paul was engaged in the teaching of the Bible, God sent accompanying miracles through Paul.
V11,And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,
Notice carefully that it begins with God. God is the one doing it.
This is not Paul doing extraordinary miracles. God is.
These are not your garden variety miracles either. They’re extraordinary ones v12,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.”
Now, what do you do when you come to something like this in the Bible?
Let me give you a cross-reference that is vital to this and all times you encounter this. It’s 2 Cor 12:12.
Paul, referencing what God has chosen to do in the apostolic era, says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, [what things?] with signs and wonders and mighty works.”
What you need to write against this section in your Bible is a phrase that says, “The signs of the Apostles”. These were marks of apostleship.
If I were to ask you, “Does this remind you of anybody?” You might say, “Yeah, a couple of people actually.”
If you go back to ch5 (this is a cross-reference you’ve probably already got), you’ll see in v12, Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by [by who?] the hands of the apostles.
If you look down to v15, they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.
Sounds similar to what Paul was doing in ch19.
Of course it reminds us ultimately of the sorts of things that Jesus did. For instance, that time when the lady pushed through the crowd just to get a touch of the edge of Jesus’ cloak and immediately her bleeding was healed.
These were signs to verify the link between the powerful words of Jesus and the words of those who were the foundation upon which the church was to be built.
This is something God was doing through the Apostles, not everybody, not just anybody, and it was to say that what these guys are saying about the risen Jesus is true. Listen to them.
That much is quite clear and plain.
What do we also know that is clear and plain?
That the apostles were a unique, unrepeatable group of individuals who shared in the fact that they had each had a sight of the risen Jesus and had him speak to them.
What do we also know?
That there are no apostles today.
Therefore, we can deduce that the signs which were given to authenticate genuine apostolic activity are no longer given to authenticate what we do. In all that God has done, he has put for us in the Bible and has given to us his word as a word made more sure.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. By saying that, I am not for a moment suggesting that God is no longer willing or able to do things that run contrary to the physical laws that we have observed for ourselves which makes sense of our universe. God remains sovereign.
God can do all kinds of things through all kinds of people.
He may choose to heal. He may choose to do something inexplicable.
“In my limited journey of life, in my experience of reading, in listening to my friends and neighbours speak, it seems to me that many of the more bizarre claims to this kind of activity are simple that: bizarre claims, and that they do not bear the testimony of the Holy Spirit in them.”
Those American tele-evangelists who offer to send to the sick hankies which they have blessed have less in common with Paul than they do these other characters in v13 and following we’ll get to in a minute.
Being apostolic doesn’t mean doing what the apostles did.
Being apostolic means listening to what the apostles said.
That was the point of the miracles then, and it’s the same point today.
Why these signs?
Why not some other amazing thing? Paul levitates when he preaches, or literally moves a mountain into the sea?
Well, the signs are not just to say, “OK listen to this guy when he speaks about God”, but this is the type of God he is speaking about. The signs themselves tell us something about who God is, and what his kingdom is like.
What God is doing is he is displaying his power over sickness – diseases left them. He is displaying his power over Satan – evil spirits came out of them. He is displaying his power over those who are sorcerers and magicians who are engaged in these forms of exorcism.
God is a God who heals, liberates, changes lives.
That’s what happens when the word of the Lord is spoken.
Where do you go to hear the word of the Lord? You go to the apostles, and nowhere or no one else.
That’s what it means to be an apostolic church. Listening to the words of the apostles as the word of the Lord.
Not mimicking what they did.
In the story that follows, we have some guys trying to do just that, and it doesn’t end well for them.
Let’s have a look.
13 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.”
Now you might think, who would be so mad as to try and do that?
Well, Luke tells us. He’s not worried about naming and shaming. V14, Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’ve never heard of a Jewish high priest called Sceva before,” and you’re right. There is no record of a high priest called Sceva.
What commentators say is that it’s likely that this Sceva character just gave himself the title “high priest”.
He made up his own business cards, because this was quite a business in those days: “Sceva (the high priest) and Sons exorcists. Say Sceva later to your evil spirits!”
See, it was all about the name. The way you did exorcisms was to make sure that you had a name stronger than the name of the evil spirit inhabiting the individual.
As long as you had a name that was stronger than this evil name that invaded the person, then you could use the stronger name to call out the weaker name.
Now they were always on the lookout for a good name, and so when the word was going around that Paul was preaching in this way, and that these dramatic things were happening, Sceva said to his boys, “Boys, I have a cunning plan. I think we ought to use Jesus’ name. Seems to be doing some remarkable things.”
Don’t you wish you had been present for this one?
You can just see them. We don’t know if this is the first occasion they tried it, but it’s certainly one occasion, and they began doing this, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”
The evil spirit laughed at them, v15, “I know Jesus, and I’ve heard about Paul, but [laughing] who on earth are you?”
It’s kind of embarrassing isn’t it?
You know, you’ve got all the people together for the exorcism. “Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’re using the name today.”
“In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches I command you to come out.” The evil spirit answers back.
16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them.
And so he should have! Bunch of nonsense.
“I came here for an exorcism and look what’s going on. Some kind of exorcist you are Sceva and your seven boys. You think I’m coming back to your medical practice? I’ll never be back. Come here, I’m going to give you all a good hiding.”
He jumped on them, and he gave them such a beating that they became the seven streakers of Sceva.
so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Running down the street, all these naked guys going through Ephesus.
Everyone’s going, “Wait what? What in the world happened to Sceva and his boys?”
“I don’t know.” “Did they have clothes on?” “I don’t think so.” “What is that about?” “Oh, we’ll have to find out about this”, say all the dads while all the mothers are trying to gather their children to cover their eyes.
When they found out about it, v17, when it became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks …fear fell upon them all.
It is because they realised that nobody could fool with the power of God. That nobody could play fast and loose with the name of the Lord Jesus. The sense of awe and reverence and fear resulted in the fact that the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled, held in high honour.
You see how this goes?
This is not about Paul is it? This is not Paul’s a great preacher, Paul’s doing some terrific things, if you can get a hold of one of Paul’s aprons you’ll never have acne again in your life, if you could just get a hold of…
No, it’s none of that. It’s God is doing amazing things, the name of Jesus is honoured, extolled.
That’s what happens when the word of the Lord is heard. But more than that…
Out of the shambles of v16 comes the transformation of v18-19.
What an amazing change!
Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.
It’s not the unbelievers that came and confessed their evil deeds, it’s the believers who came and confessed their evil deeds.
Believers need to confess evil deeds, don’t we?
Are you a believer today? You have any evil deeds in your life? Or are you evil free?
Well the more you realise just how much the name of Jesus should be honoured and extolled, the more you realise just how evil-free you aren’t.
They had evil deeds, and they came and confessed their evil deeds. They brought them out into the open.
Several of them who had practiced sorcery actually brought their books together and had a big bonfire.
The value of the books, this was costly, came to 50,000 pieces of silver. A piece of silver was about the equivalent of the average daily wage. So 50,000 times an eight hour day, or maybe a 12 hour day at an hourly rate.
$11 million dollars or something.
This is outrageous. This is a tonne of money. This is a costly event. There’s never been a more expensive bonfire.
“What’s going on with the bonfires?” “Oh, these people are burning their magic books.” “That’s costing them isn’t it? … Costing them their livelihood, costing them their enjoyment, costing them their influence?”
Don’t miss something here will you.
All of us bring to our new-found Christian faith much that doesn’t fit with our profession of faith.
Somebody says, “If you will believe in Jesus you will be saved.”
You said, “Fine, I understand that. I want to believe in Jesus.” “Yeah, but you’ve got a filthy mind. You have a filthy mouth. You’re riddled with jealous thoughts, or whatever it might be.”
All of that is brought to our newfound Christian faith, and not all of it is eradicated in one little sweep you know.
That’s why Paul has to write to the Corinthians and say to them, “Do you think that you can actually have Jesus as your king and engage in immorality with the lady up the street? Do you think that you can have Jesus as your king and treat each other the way that you do?
“Somebody hasn’t made this clear to you. Let me make this clear to you.”
That’s the point here. Many of those who believed said, “You know what? If Jesus really is the king, I can’t continue with this. If Jesus actually is Lord, who himself paid the ultimate price to win forgiveness of my sins, my rebellion against him, then how can I on the one hand declare Jesus as king and the power of his name, and then at the very same time engage in all of this?”
Then the the penny dropped (someone suddenly understood or realized something) and they did what they had to do. They believed, they confessed openly. They were changed.
You might have heard of the well-known missionary and cricketer C.T. Studd. He had a very wealthy dad whose name was Edward. Edward was really wealthy, really into sport.
In the late 19thC Dwight L. Moody the evangelist comes. Someone says to Edward, “Would you like to hear Dwight L. Moody preach?”
Well he was famous. “Yes I would,” he said. Moody preaches, Edward Studd trusts in Christ.
Then the word gets out in the community: Edward Studd has become religious.
A visitor to his estate asked one of the coachmen, “I hear Mr. Studd has become religious.”
The coachman replied, “I don’t know much about that, but all I can say is that, though there is the same skin, there’s a new man inside.”
Although there is the same skin, there is a new man inside.
That’s the power of the word of the Lord.
You’ve got three things going on in this story…
Which one is the most miraculous?
Let’s not focus or get hang-up on the smaller things.
Paul’s message is this: come bow before the King.
If, as a believer you’re trying to play it up the middle of the road, then bring your books and burn them.
I don’t know what they might be, whatever it is that’s competing with Jesus for your allegiance. Whatever it is that’s trying to say to you, “You don’t need Jesus for security, or enjoyment. It’s your influence that matters, not his.”
Whatever it might be, burn the books, and bow beneath Christ’s kingship.
If you think, “The price is too much. If I let go of what I need to let go of, it’s going to cost too much.”
Remember two things:
First, yes it may be a big price to submit to Jesus, but remember it’s a bigger price to reject him.
You think it’s tough to be a disciple of Jesus? Think about what it would be like to stay a disciple of sin.
There’s hell to pay. Not only will the devil squeeze the very life out of you with all his empty promises of security and enjoyment and influence, but eventually you will spend all of eternity in darkness and lostness.
Some of you were well down that street before you came to Jesus. You know it’s a dead-end street. How insignificant is the price of self-renunciation in Christ’s service in comparison with the price paid for rejecting him.
There is a great reward for following Jesus. What is it?
The reward for following Jesus is that you get … to follow Jesus.
You get Jesus. The King of kings and Lord of lords. The one whose name is above all names and he says, “Come to me, come to me and I will keep you safe. Come to me and I will satisfy the deepest longings of your heart.”
Even if it costs you your life, you’re infinitely ahead.
I don’t think these people cared how much the bonfire cost. It’s almost incidental. After the fact they counted, and they just happened to find out how much.
They’re a living example of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:44, which says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A man sees and sells everything he has — everything he has! — to get that treasure. In other words, all the so-called costs and all the so-called losses — everything — are nothing compared to the gains of having Jesus, the greatest treasure.
Jesus is so great – do whatever it takes.
Whatever you need to give up to hear the word of the Lord and know Jesus better – it’s always gain.
Look upon us in your mercy oh God we pray. Grant that we might find in Jesus all of the cleansing and forgiveness and enabling that is necessary for us to declare his kingship and to live marching, as it were, underneath his banner. Thank you that what we cannot do for ourselves you have done so for us and help us to rely then on your sovereign grace displayed in Jesus, we pray for his sake and in his name.
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