This comes from a devotional I did for Dr. Robert Smith, Jr.’s preaching class.
11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 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. 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.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. —Acts 19:11-17
Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you? Who are you?
Beeson just hosted our really angsty Anglican conference over the past two days. Anglicans from all-over gathered together as we tried to figure out who on earth we are. Frankly, at the close of the first day, I felt kind of discouraged because rather than proposing any sort of solution to our identity crisis, it seemed as though we had mainly highlighted our differences and played a ton of insider baseball that no one else in their right mind would care about.
Now, as you know, I’m an Anglican; and while I don’t think that our discussions were meaningless, I could not help but wonder if at times we Anglicans become so consumed with whether or not Anglicanism is more Reformed, Roman Catholic, or something else that we end up worshipping an ecclesial structure, the sacraments, or doctrinal statements rather than the risen Christ.
In Acts 19 we hear about these Jewish exorcists who are most likely nothing more than charlatans looking to make a few bucks anyway they can. Hearing about the power of Jesus and Paul, they latch on to their names as if they are some sort of magic words, and they try to drive out evil spirits in their own strength.
And we do something very similar don’t we? We seminarians may not be con artist exorcists, but we do study super hard, we learn our history and doctrine, we polish our rhetoric, and then we go out into the world and try to conquer evil on our own. We become so infatuated with the accouterments of our faith or our particular tradition that we think that we -- that we -- can provide spiritual healing if we just say the right words or apply the right doctrine. In so doing, we may take the name of Jesus with us while leaving Jesus himself behind.
And then what happens? Well, what happens to the Jewish exorcists? The evil spirit looks at these seven sons of Sceva and says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” and then he overtakes them and sends them away “naked and wounded.” Interestingly enough, Luke lets us know that despite their failure to cast out the spirits, the name of Jesus is still extolled in Ephesus.
I think this can stand as a warning for all of us. God will establish his kingdom. Period. The name of Jesus will not fail to be extolled. But God has graciously invited us to be a part of his story of redemption. He has empowered us in the Spirit to be proclaimers of the good news of life in Jesus Christ.
However if we try to do the work of God, if we try to pastor people, if we try to preach in our own strength and for our own glory, we will end up harming ourselves and others.
Therefore let us not forget the one who is the object of our worship. Even in the midst of crazy schedules at Beeson let us make time for prayer and devotion. Let us not become so consumed with our pet doctrines and disciplines that they become more important to us than God himself. Rather let us abide in Christ and not forget the responsibility for success of our ministries belongs to the triune God alone. Amen.