GETTING THE MESSAGE/Tyranny of the devil crushed
In this passage (Acts 19:8-20), Paul is on his third missionary journey and has made his way to Ephesus. Ephesus was a large port city in southwest modern-day Turkey. In it was one of the 7 wonders of the world, the temple of Artemis. Artemis was the goddess of fertility, nature, and life. So the people served idols as a way of life. In Acts 19:9, Luke describes the Christian life as the Way, following Jesus’ words: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Paul goes to the synagogue first, “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” In other places Paul’s preaching is summarized by explaining the necessity of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, which is the essence of the coming of his kingdom.
This is the kingdom of grace that Christ established so that the kingdom of God comes to its fullest expression in this world in the life of those who belong to Christ, are ruled by his word, are empowered by his Spirit, and are zealous for the culmination of the kingdom of glory when he returns.
To belong to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus is the greatest blessing. To be outside of it is to be a subject of the kingdom of the devil. We see the conflict that occurs when Christ’s kingdom confronts the devil’s in the account of the sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11-16.
Paul had been doing extraordinary miracles including casting out demons (verse 12). The sons of Sceva were itinerant Jewish exorcists who traveled about making money off people in distressed situations by exorcism of demons. We see in the passage they had no real power, so when they see actual miraculous exorcisms they attempt to do the same by invoking the name of Jesus as Paul did.
The response of the demon in the man they addressed however is to challenge their authority. The demon possessed man then overpowers them, and they flee out of the house naked and wounded (verse 16). This shows us the terrible situation of being under the power of the devil, their nakedness depicting their helplessness.
Christ alone can deliver us from the tyranny of the devil. When Paul wrote his epistle to the church in Ephesus, he reminded them of the greatness of God’s grace which rescued them from “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now in at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
It is good for us to fix our eyes upon the blood of the one offering for sin. Paul will also remind the church in Ephesus to put on the whole armor of God to protect against the power of the devil (Ephesians 6). We are naked and exposed without the “clothing” of the gospel of Christ shielding us.
Let the story of the sons of Sceva instruct you. The devil is too strong for us. Peter was made aware of this when he denied Christ. Jesus taught his people that the power of his Spirit was stronger than the devil, but warned, “You can do nothing apart from me.” The hymn “I need thee every hour,” is the reality of the Christian life.
Luke tells us that when the people of Ephesus became aware of what happened with the sons of Sceva, they were afraid. And many of those who were believers in Christ came forward and confessed their dealings with the occult. They showed the sincerity of their repentance by bringing out their magic arts books and burning them publicly, books that had great value monetarily (Acts 19:19).
Repentance is a life giving grace. The Ephesians who broke with their occultist past did so in response to the light the Lord shone upon the evil of it. We all have sins that we would endeavor to put to death if they were exposed to greater light. For our sanctification to go deeper we need something stronger than natural conscience or conviction. We need convincing and humbling from the Holy Spirit.
Repentance is not an easy work. You might as well seek to melt an anvil as to melt your own heart. It is not in the power of man to repent at his leisure. We are at our best when we feel weak as a reed. We find tender treatment from the Lord. Those who mourn over sin have the mark of preservation. The Holy Spirit will become the Comforter to convicted sinners.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.