In December we celebrate the incarnation of Christ. Jesus came into the world for many reasons (Luke 19:10; Mark 10:45; Matthew 10:34; 1 Timothy 1:15). But one reason he came into the world was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Since the church is to continue what Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1:1), we should expect a fight with the accuser of the brethren. The church in the book of Acts continued to grow, but not without resistance. The church overcame geographical, racial, economic, religious, and educational barriers. Could it overcome demonic barriers as well?
Toward the beginning of the third missionary journey Paul came by land to Ephesus (Acts 19:1-7). He had promised to return to Ephesus if the Lord willed (18:21). God did will it. The first thing Paul did was to correct a doctrinal misunderstanding about baptism with some of the disciples. This misunderstanding may well have been left over from the ministry of Apollos, who knew only the baptism of John. The twelve disciples of Ephesus experienced a Pentecost of sorts, so Paul stayed to help the young church grow. In fact, Ephesus was Paul’s longest ministry. The result of this long-term ministry was sustained church growth in Asia (or Asia Minor—modern day Turkey).
Over the long haul there is no substitute for sustained teaching of the Word. This causes the enemy to tremble. Paul stayed in Ephesus for some time expanding the government (kingdom) of God by arguing persuasively in the synagogue. But some people dug in their feet. They became obstinate (hardened) and maligned (spoke evil about) the Way (an early identification of Christians—Acts 9:2; 19:23; John 14:6).
Paul, like God, was a gentleman of the highest order. He would not stay where he was not wanted. So Paul left the synagogue and evidently rented a lecture hall (maybe during the noon hour) to hold his discussions (dialogues). This campus ministry of sorts bore much fruit over the next two years. Jews and Greeks heard the gospel (a summary phrase that Luke uses to refer to gospel effectiveness—see Acts 19:20).
Paul was able to back up his message with miracles. These deeds gave credence to Paul’s words. They were described as extraordinary (unusual). They were rather unusual in this case. Through the instrumentality of Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons (something on the order of sweat rags) illnesses were cured and evil spirits were sent packing.
These miracles seem rather fantastic to us. But they are easier to believe than some supposed miracles in the Greco-Roman world (see Wendy Cotter’s, Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity). It did not take long for the genuineness of Paul’s miracles to be counterfeited. Seven sons of a Jewish chief priest attempted to exorcise demons through a formulaic incantation. In the ancient world invoking the right name over a demon was believed to have power over the demon. But Sceva’s sons bit off more than they could chew. The evil spirit acknowledged “knowing” Jesus and “knowing about” (a different word than the previous word for knowing—it is where we get our English word “epistemology”) Paul. Similar to the Gadarene demoniac story (Mark 5:1-20), the man in whom the demon lived overpowered them all. When the people of Ephesus could see God’s power against demonic counterfeit power, the result was spiritual success.
Seven naked men running out of a house created quite a stir. News traveled fast about Paul’s superior message and power. The genuine name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. Those who had been converted, but were not instantly mature believers yet, came and confessed their former evil ways. In other words, they gave their testimony.
Perhaps some of them were not out of the woods yet. Perhaps some of them were even still involved in “playing for the other team.” Perhaps some of them were still practicing both Christianity and dabbling in occult practices. But they came clean. They turned from their idols to serve the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). They had a good old-fashioned book burning. Sometimes that is the only way to draw a bead on one’s conversion. The estimated value placed on the magic books burned was fifty thousand drachmas (a drachma is similar to a denarius or day’s wage). That must have been quite a fire.
When the gospel comes to town Satan is defeated, the serpent is defanged, the dragon is thrown down, and word of the Lord spreads widely and grows in power.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.