POWER TO DESTROY STRONGHOLDS - ACTS 19:8-20
During the Battle of Waterloo, England waited silently for news of the outcome. If Wellington could not defeat Napoleon, England would have a frightening future. Finally, from the top of Winchester Cathedral, trained eyes read the semaphore signals: W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D! Just then fog set in, and no further transmission was possible. “Wellington defeated” was relayed throughout England. Despair reigned as people prepared for the worst. What would happen to their beloved land? But later the fog lifted, and the full message was revealed: W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D-T-H-E-E-N-E-M-Y!
How different history would be without those final two words. And how different the church would be if through the haze of history all we could see were the words: P-A-U-L-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D! But that is sometimes how the situation appeared, until the smoke finally settled and the message read: P-A-U-L-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D-T-H-E-E-N-E-M-Y! These words definitely described the events that we are going to read about in our text this evening.
Paul, if you recall, was in Ephesus and ministered there for about three years. Now let me take a moment and give you the background of this city, in order to help you understand our passage. Ephesus was the market of Asia Minor. She was known as “The Treasure House of Asia” and some called her “The Vanity Fair of Asia.” Ephesus was an Assize (uh-sahyz) town, which means the Roman governor came to try great cases of justice there. She was the seat of the Pan-Ionian games which the whole city came to see. To be president of these games and to be responsible for their organization was a greatly coveted honor. These men were called Asiarchs (ay’zi-ahrks).
Also, Ephesus was known as the home of criminals. The Temple of Artemis (Diana) possessed the right of asylum. That is to say, any criminal reaching the area round the temple was safe. Therefore, this city was home of the criminals of the ancient world. She was the center of pagan superstition. She was famous for charms and spells called “Ephesian Letters.” They were guaranteed to bring safety on a journey, to bring children to the childless, to bring success in love or business enterprise. From all over the world people came to buy these magic parchments which they wore as amulets.
The greatest glory of Ephesus was the Temple of Artemis or Diana. This Temple was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. It was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. There were 127 pillars, each the gift of a king. The great altar was carved by the greatest sculptor of the day. The image of Artemis was not beautiful. It was black, squat, many-breasted figure, signifying fertility; it was so old that no one knew where it had come from or even of what material it was made. The story was that it had fallen from heaven.
Well, Paul enters this sin infested sin and wins many great victories there. He probably wrote the letter to the Corinthians there in which he wrote, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to bring down strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
This is what Luke communicates to us in our passage this evening. In fact, I see two powers in Paul’s arsenal to bring down these strongholds. They are the power of the Word and the power of wonder. First, let us look at the power of the Word.
POWER OF THE WORD – 8-10
In verse 8, Luke shares with us that it was in God’s will for Paul to come back to Ephesus. If you remember in our last sermon in Acts, Paul was asked by the Jews to stay longer and teach them but Paul was in a hurry to Jerusalem because of a vow. Yet, he tells them, “I will return to you if God wills.” So Paul is back in Ephesus and enters the synagogue to reason and persuade the Jews about the Kingdom of God for three months. This was an unusually long period of time for Paul.
Paul takes advantage of this opportunity to reason (question and answer) and persuade (convince with strong arguments) the Jews about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God for Paul was the church which Jesus purchased with his blood on Calvary. It involves a present reality and future reality. And he preaches with boldness. Folks, the Word of God must be delivered with boldness.
Remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. In fact, Paul tells the Ephesians to pray “for me that words my be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19-20). So Paul spoke fearlessly the Word of God to the Jews.
Now can I say that when you speak boldly the Word of God, then you will have those who oppose you and this was certainly the case for Paul? Luke says in verse 9 that some became stubborn (hardened in the heart) and therefore continued in unbelief (in other words they were not persuaded by Paul’s preaching). This stubbornness and unbelief led them to speak evil (deride) the Way (Christianity) before the congregation.
In Matthew 13:14 Jesus quoted Isaiah 6, speaking about those who rejected his word: "You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving." Jesus was speaking about those who allow Satan to come and take the word away from their hearts. He continued, "For this people’s heart has become calloused," meaning hardened, like stone. The more the word is heard but not received, the harder one’s heart becomes. This is the opposite of the situation of the one who accepts the word. The more that person hears the word, the softer his heart becomes. It is the same word but opposite reaction. Then Jesus concluded, "They hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them." And Paul left the synagogue with the believers and entered the hall of Tyrannus for two years. Now not much is know about the hall of Tyrannus. Tyrannus means “tyrant.” One commentator suggests that this is a nickname given to this teacher by his students because no parent would name their child this. Well, whatever the case may be Paul finds himself in this hall. The Greek term hall is literally “leisure” or “rest.” It eventually became associated with the kind of activity carried on during times of leisure, that is, lectures, debates, and discussion. Finally, the term came to mean the place where these leisure activities occurred. This suggestion is made plausible by an addition in the Western text that states that Paul taught in the hall “from the fifth hour until the tenth,” that is, from 11 am until 4 pm (nrsv mg). This would mean that Paul used the hall only during afternoon rest periods (siestas), for in all Ionian cities, work ceased at 11 am and did not resume until late afternoon because of the intense heat. Possibly these rest periods made the hall available for Paul’s use, and Tyrannus himself lectured there before and after these hours. Paul would have worked at his trade in the morning hours (Acts 20:35) and then taught his students in this school building during the middle of the day. If he did teach for five hours every day for two years, it adds up to 1,500-1,800 hours of teaching, a substantial amount! The men who received the teaching went into the outlying areas and established churches in Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Col. 1:7; 4:12-13) and possibly the seven churches in Revelation. The result was that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).
We know this to be fact because Demetrius in verse 26 will confirm the tremendous influence of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus on Asia. Forty years after this Pliny in his famous letter to Trajan from Bithynia will say of Christianity: “For the contagion of this superstition has not only spread through cities, but also through villages and country places.”
Wouldn’t it be exciting to substitute “Sylacauga or Talladega County” for the word Asia. Well, the only way this is going to happen is to have leaders who teach the Word boldly and listeners eager to hear. Paul worked morning hours, preached for five hours and then went back to work. And these people who heard him instead of napping during the rest period came to get instructed in God’s Word. As a result, Paul reproduced Christians who took the Word of God to other parts of the world. So Paul destroyed strongholds with the power of the Word and with the
POWER OF WONDER – 11-20
In these verses, we see the power of wonder over sickness, Satan, and sin. Notice in verse 11 that God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hand of Paul. In other words, these were special miracles. These were miracles that did not happen by chance. There are at least three periods of time where God did the miraculous (supernatural) in Scriptures. It was during the time of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the disciples. And each of those periods were no more than 100 years. Now, this does not mean that God no longer does miracle. These wonders were beyond those familiar to the disciples and completely different from the Jewish exorcists that we will meet in a minute. I want to say that the miracles in Scripture are never an ends in themselves but were opportunities to assist people in the faith or commitment.
In verse 12, we will notice the power of these wonders over sickness. Now, you need to know that Ephesus was a focal point for magicians and wandering priests. The city was filled with wizards attempting to exercise power over the dark forces. So God may have used these unusual means to show that his miraculous powers were greater than the powers of darkness. Ephesus was a cesspool for the occult.
God’s miracles through Paul were not only direct but indirect as verse 12 points out. Paul worked hours before going to the hall of Tyrannus and therefore sweated in the heat of Asia Minor. People would take his handkerchiefs and aprons (symbols of his labor) and take them to the sick and their sickness and evil spirits left them. The handkerchiefs were the cloths tied around the head of the Apostle to keep the sweat out of his eyes. And the apron went around his waist because he was a tentmaker and worked with leather. These sweaty rags were used by God to perform miracles.
This is quite different from what we see today by so-called faith healers who advertise their miracles before the public and expect money for them. Modern TV “healers” send out little squares of cloth that they have “anointed.” They ask their audiences to touch them as a point-of-contact and, of course, to send in their donation. Here is one example. The “healer” instructs me to hold the cloth reverently and listen as God tells me how He will grant me the healing or financial miracle that I need. Then I’m supposed to put this cloth inside the envelope, along with my generous gift, to prove in a tangible way that I believe God’s Word. He explains that the money is not to buy a miracle, but to express my thanks to God for His free gifts. He assures me that when he receives my prayer cloth along with my generous gift, he and his wife will lay my request and cloth before God in fasting prayer in their private prayer closet. He assures me that the Lord will grant my miracle.
Now you can imagine what is going through the heads of these magicians who witness these miracles. They are thinking I could make a killing off of this thing. Remember Satan is a counterfeiter so whenever God plants something real then Satan will plant his fake that looks real in order to deceive. So in verse 13, Satan’s counterfeit shows up in seven itinerant Jewish exorcists. They are the sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva. There are no records according to Josephus (a Jewish historian) about Sceva. So maybe he was a part of the high priestly family or made a false claim to a high priestly lineage.
Magical exorcists often invoked the names of higher spirits to cast out lower ones. According to magical theory, exorcists could coerce a deity or spirit to do their will by invoking its name. Ancient magical texts show that many exorcists were Jewish or drew on some knowledge of Judaism, and these texts include every possible permutation of vowels as guesses for pronouncing the unpronounced name of God (cf. comment on 2:20–21). Some later ancient magical texts invoked the name of Jesus alongside other formulas, recognizing, as do the exorcists in this narrative, its efficacy when employed by Christians to expel demons. Ancient magicians were syncretists and would borrow terms from any religion that sounded sufficiently strange to be deemed effective. These Jewish exorcists of Ephesus were only plying their trade. Paul’s “spell” in Jesus’ name seemed effective for him, so they gave it a try.
Well verse 15, shows us the results of their activity. The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” This is sort of comical what Luke writes here. Luke uses two different Greek words here to describe the knowledge that the spirits had with Jesus and Paul. The word “know” means to know by experience. In other words, they knew from experience they were no match for Jesus because he had casted out many demons and never wavered under temptation. The word “recognize” means to know by reason of proximity or prolonged attention. The evil had been around Paul watching and studying him.
Because the spirit did not recognize these men, he jumped all over them and overpowered him so they ran out of the house humiliated. For Jews who were known for their modesty this incident humiliated these men beyond anything. Folks, we need to learn that magic is not something Christians should play with.
Many Christians and even some Christian leaders today dabble in the occult, sometimes without realizing what they are doing. Techniques of using visualization as a means of healing or financial success are an occult practice (Dave Hunt & T. A. McMahon, The Seduction of Christianity [Harvest House], pp. 123-169). Many of the “Word-Faith” teachers are really promoting the occult when they tell you to visualize and speak into existence whatever you want, assuring you that God will do what you speak in faith. Astrology, fortune telling, Ouija boards, and tarot cards are directly demonic, and yet many Christians think of them as innocent games.
The power of wonder was shown over sickness, over Satan, and now in the final verses of this passage over sin. According to verse 17 word spread to all the residents of Ephesus about this event and fear fell upon the people and Jesus named was glorified. In other words, Jesus was not a person to be trifled with. Notice that these incidents brought glory to God and not Paul.
So this event had an effect on those who were believers. They came (kept coming) confessing and divulging their practices. There were many believers who were secretly cherishing their contact with this magic. In fact, many who were saved came from these practices and still held on to them after salvation. The famous statue of Artemis, the centerpiece of her temple, was noted for the mysterious terms engraved on the crown, girdle, and feet of the image. Referred to as the “Ephesian scripts,” this magical gibberish was considered to have great power. It was not by accident that Paul’s encounter with magic took place in Ephesus, nor is it a surprise that his converts there had been involved in such practices. Magic was part of Ephesian culture.
These believers came and kept coming to confess their sins openly and fully from top to bottom about their deeds. Salvation is a process of growth. So these believers grew greatly when they heard about the seven sons of Sceva. They were ready to part ways with their sin.
To show their break from their sin a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. These books contained magical formulas or sentences written on slips of paper or carried around in bracelets. So they made a clean break from these things by burning these books.
Luke says the books were valued at fifty thousand pieces of silver. This was an exorbitant amount of money in that day. Let me put it into perspective for you. If reckoned in Jewish money, about thirty-five thousand dollars; if in Greek drachma, as is more probable, about nine thousand to ten thousand dollars. This would be the equivalent to the total salaries of a 150 men working for an entire year or one man working for over 135 years.
Maybe it’s not books on sorcery and magic, but it could be filthy videos that are not edifying for you and that would keep others from God if you sold them. Maybe it means throwing out magazines with lustful pictures. Whatever it is, true repentance requires turning from our sin and taking the necessary steps so that we don’t go back to it again. We will stay as far away from the old sources of temptation as we can. If we claim to be believers, but hold onto our old sinful practices, God’s power will be hindered in our lives.