By Pastor Peter Loughman
NOTE: This sermon was given by Pastor Loughman back in 2010. I found it in my preparation for this Saturday's show. I thought it was enlightening and wanted to share it with you. Pastor Frisbee
What if you came upon something that was so powerful, it could alter your own personal destiny or alter the destiny of others at your will?
Would you desire that power?
What if this power could make you the most important person in the state, perhaps the nation?
How much would something like that be worth?
With this power you could be a person known instantly by name, held in high esteem, given great honor, in fact, people would seek you out above many others. This power could give you exactly what you most desire…
Would this power be something worth discovering?
What if this power could make you unbelievably wealthy, absolutely popular, and provide you with more than you could ever imagine?
What would you be willing to do for a power such as this?
Historically, there have been plenty of people willing to give almost anything, anything, and they have been willing to do almost anything to obtain this kind of power, for this power is without a doubt very, very real, and very, very strong.
Our passage this morning from start to finish is all about power, incredible power, ultimate power - uber power - if we want to be hip. This passage is not only about who or what is powerful, but more importantly, this passage is about access to power. The people we see in this passage don’t just want to know about power, they want access to the power.
Look, the people in this passage are not concerned, with political power, military power or physical power. They have all found something much greater, and in some cases they are obsessed with finding and keeping this power they have discovered.
The people we read here in this passage, have discovered a power beyond their imagination. What these people have discovered is, spiritual power. It has captured them, and they have devoted their life to seeking it.
Paul enters the city of Ephesus to spread the Gospel, but Ephesus is unlike any other city Paul has entered, for Ephesus is a city whose life revolves around the occult. It was a city full of occultists. Ephesus was a city that was well known for its magical texts, spell books, and magical amulets. They specialized in creating these small scrolls on which was written a spell. These scrolls with the spells would then be placed in a small cylinder and were known as Ephesia grammata. They were very common throughout the Roman world.
These little scrolls were not good luck charms, of luck had nothing to do with it. These scrolls deal with spirits, these scrolls deal with the occult. This passage is about the engagement of spiritual powers - but only one of the powers is of God.
Scripture: Acts 19:1-19:20
Look at verse 1-3. There are twelve men that Paul runs into in the city of Ephesus who are believers, but the lack….something. Note that these men are believers. What Paul says in the Greek is literally "having believed, did you receive?"
Paul sees that these men are believers, but the power of the Holy Spirit is not evident in the men, so Paul asks, (from the Greek text) "having believed, did you receive the Holy Spirit?” and the men are unaware of what Paul is speaking of.
Let me be clear, biblically, we see that when a person becomes a Christian they obtain the Holy Spirit; When you or I gave our live over to Jesus Christ - at that very instant, the very moment we believed, the Holy Spirit came upon us. So, we see that these men have the Holy Spirit, because you cannot be a believer without the Holy Spirit, for the definition of real, true belief is possession of the Holy Spirit, and these men are believers, but the Holy Spirit is not evident in their lives.
Now you can term this interaction between Paul and the twelve men any number of things, but whatever you call it, whatever you categorize it, whatever name you place it under, as a practical matter, these men have evidence of the Holy Spirit after they pray with Paul. The power of the Holy Spirit is evident in their lives.
These first seven verses set up the context for the rest of the passage: Whatever is associated with the name of Jesus is powerful.
Now, all spiritual power is not the same, and understand, the way to access spiritual power is not all the same either, depending on what spiritual power one is attempting to access.
We see that Paul certainly has power doesn’t he? In verses 10-11, we see that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, the power of the Holy Spirit was with him. We also see that pieces of clothing from Paul have power as well.
We see in Mark 5:27-34 that a woman is healed who touches the fringe of the garment of Jesus and in Acts 5:15 that it is insinuated that Peter’s shadow had healing power, though it is not explicitly stated, so we cannot hold up Acts 5:15 as a solid reference. Yet, in the Old Testament we read in 2 Kings 13:21, the following: "Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet."
There is no explanation given here, it is just a statement of what happened, just like our passage today. In our passage today, we see that it is that what is described as handkerchiefs are literally these rags Paul would wipe sweat with off his face and toss aside. Perhaps God is trying to make a point: The rags Paul throws away are more powerful than any object the occultists had.
Most likely these objects had been stolen from Paul and the thief fetched a good price for his petty crime. In the occult, objects such as is described here are commonly used to bring about a blessing or a curse. What we see here is that people of the occult in the city of Ephesus believe Paul to be powerful, so they will “obtain” these items for their own use.
Now why would God allow such a thing to happen? Again, we have no explanation, but we do see this: The power of God is more than evident in Paul.
Then we run into The Seven Sons of Sceva and things really heat up. I have always loved the name The Seven Sons of Sceva. I don’t know, it always sounds to me to be the name of a mens acapella choir. But, these men were no choir, they were practitioners of the occult.
Who was Sceva? He was a Jewish man who belonged to the tribe of Levi. Priests only served in the Temple at Jerusalem and this man is not one of those priests. It was common throughout the Roman world for Jews involved in the occult to claim some sort of a priestly tie in. It is highly likely that Sceva was not a priest and just claimed that he was.
Why would Sceva claim to be a Hebrew Priest? Wouldn’t being a Hebrew priest place him low in the levels of pagan society - No it wouldn’t, in fact, claiming to be a chief priest would give Sceva great authority in a city such as Ephesus. Here’s why: The pagans occultists knew the name of the Lord God, Yahweh, was a name with great power. They knew it was such a powerful name that the people of Israel were forbidden to speak it.
The name Yahweh was spoken only on one day in the entire year, on the day of atonement when the high priest would enter the holy of holies and speak the name of Yahweh asking for the forgiveness of sins for the people of Israel.
The occultists believed a Hebrew high priest or chief priest would have some inside secret knowledge on how to invoke the name of Yahweh for great effect. Because of this perceived secret ability pagan occultists held Hebrew priests in high esteem, and so Sceva is a powerful man in the city of Ephesus.
Now the Seven sons of Sceva may be Sceva’s actual sons, or they may be occultists who worked with him. Either way, these men had a thing going where they would exorcise spirits around the city. So they decide to try the name of Jesus - and utter disaster falls upon them. Apparently, this was not their first attempt, but it probably was their last. Here, when the sons of Sceva enter the story is where things get, very serious.
To understand what is going on here we need to stop for a moment and understand a little bit of how the occult works.
First off, let me remind you that any involvement, let me underline that, ANY involvement in the occult is expressly forbidden in the Scripture. We are not to be involved. There are no exceptions, there are no gray lines, do not become involved.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 tells us,
"Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you."
Over the years I have counseled with many people who were suffering from their involvement in the occult. It is always bad news. Get involved in the occult, and you will be harmed. Do you know who will give the strongest warning concerning this? Believe it or not, those who are heavily involved in the occult. They are the first to give the strongest warnings about the occult. They will give the gravest warning about how dangerous it is.
Now, if you are hesitant to believe in occult activity, then you are the typical American. When I say occult activity, what I mean is activity of evil spirits. Why this activity is so pronounced in third world countries and not in the United States could have many complex reasons, but let me relate this to you.
Several years ago I was able to sit down with three pastors from Bungoma, Kenya and visit with them about their ministry in Kenya Africa. At some point in the conversation I asked them what was the issue they dealt most with as pastors on a daily bases. Without a moments hesitation, all three said demonic oppression, demonic possession and demonic activity in the towns and villages. They quickly asked if I had any Christian books on the occult and I gave them a couple that seemed to fit their situation.
Then they told me this, they said that they visited coast to coast in the United States, but I was only one of a handful of people that had not only dealt with the demonic situations, but also took it seriously. Why was this so they asked? I didn’t have an answer, and to this day, I still do not have an answer.
You may say to yourself that you have never experienced occult activity or demonic activity, and so therefore, in our time at least, it does not exists. Well, ok, but think about this: that is the exact argument an atheist will give about God - I have never experienced God therefore God does not exist.
Be careful with your assumptions.
Ok. Here is what is happening, occult wise, in this passage. The Seven Sons of Sceva are relying on the ancient occult practice of obtaining a spell or an incantation that involves a recognized name of the spirit. It is apparent that obtaining a name of an spirit is a common practice. In Mark 5:9 we read, “Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
To oversimplify things, the occultist uses a spell or an incantation to call on a spirit to do his bidding. If the occultists is successful he can interact with the spirit - which is what the Seven Sons of Sceva did, but not in a way that they expected. (Let me clarify here that when I say spirit, what I mean is demon.) The idea of dead human spirits inhabiting the earth and haunting us biblically incorrect. Your relative or friend who has passed away is not watching over you, is not here with you, is not interacting with you, that does not happen. However, the presence of evil spirits is very real.
Today we see a dramatic and alarming rise in occult activity in the United States and Europe. Most of what we see today are called Neo-Pagan groups. Neo-Pagan groups are not your traditional occult adherents, and in fact they claim not to be of the occult, but all their activity proves otherwise and they are a new version of the occult.
Wiccans would be the most prominent group in the United States. Wicca is quite young, tracing its roots back to the 1800’s. What do wiccans believe? A little of this and a little of that. Wicca in its original state, took bits and pieces of rituals, ceremonies and spells from a variety of sources and made a religion they felt comfortable with. Every wiccan group will have different and contradictory beliefs from the next wiccan group, but study them long enough, and the common thread that emerges is occult activity with spirits, the very thing we are warned to not be involved in.
This very day, you can walk into a secular bookstore and you will find a large section on neo-pagan books. Most likely you will only find neo-pagan materials today and not traditional occult materials. The fact is that the spells and rituals that you find in these books are just plain made up, they are gibberish and are not what you could term authentic occult - but it is never the less just as harmful, because it is not what is on the page that is dangerous, but what is behind those words on the page.
Here is where we bring this all together.
Let me ask you this: When I place five letters together do they have some sort of an magical power? J E S U S . The fact is Jesus was a very common name in the day.
You know, as Americans, when we think of the name JFK, John F Kennedy, it is not the order of the particular letters that are powerful, it is the legacy behind the name JFK, it is the man himself behind the name JFK.
In the same way the name of Jesus is powerful, because when we say, “In the name of Jesus” we don’t mean just any old Jesus do we? We mean Jesus of Nazareth, who lived, who died and who rose again. We mean Jesus, the name above all names, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. His power is overwhelming and absolute. God almighty who is behind the name Jesus, is what makes the name Jesus so powerful.
Who has the ultimate power in our passage, and who has the ultimate power in our lives today? Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here is the great danger of being involved in the occult or in a neo-pagan occult group: All the activity boils down to contact and interaction with fallen spiritual beings, whether this is understood by the adherent or not, this is the case. You see there are two types of spirits out there, those of God, otherwise known as angels and those not known of God, otherwise known as fallen angels, or demons. Call upon these fallen spirits long enough, even if the material is not authentic, call upon these fallen spirits long enough and they WILL show up, and life will start to unravel.
What should you do if you have been involved in occult activity?
(Truth is, in most churches, of any denomination, many of the members have been involved in the occult at one time or another, and they might not be aware of their involvement. A good example is the Oujia Board, which is divination set designed to contact evil spirits. Use one long enough, and a spirit will respond)
Let’s look at verse 18-19. W see that those who were involved in occult activity confessed their sin, they repented. Then they removed all occult materials and threw them out.
Here we see that they burned their occult materials.They did this because the cultural belief was that burning the materials would nullify the effectiveness of the materials and it also showed that they had no intention of going back into the occult.
Repent your ways, Remove the materials, Return to the Name above all names - Jesus Christ our Lord for he has power over any all who come against him.
Finally, if you believe you are dealing with some of these things in your life, please come talk to me so we can set the issue to rest. (This offer comes from Pastor Frisbee and Rev Hunnemann as well)
People desire power, especially spiritual power. They want spiritual power because they believe it can get them what they want out of life, and so are willing to pay an incredible price to have it, even if it is an evil power they are dealing with. The odd thing is, neo-pagans who do contact and experience evil spirits are terrified from their experience - but they go back for more, because the spiritual experience is very real. How foolish.
We as Christians have the Holy Spirit, who is stronger than any minor spirit. We serve the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit. With them and in them there is no terror, there is mercy and grace, and the power stronger than any in the universe - love.