11-12 God did powerful things through Paul, things quite out of the ordinary. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing—handkerchiefs and scarves and the like—that had touched Paul’s skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole.
13-15 Some itinerant (travelling) Jewish exorcists who happened to be in town at the time tried their hand at what they assumed to be Paul’s “game.” They pronounced the name of the Master Jesus over victims of evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus preached by Paul!” The seven sons of a certain Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were trying to do this on a man when the evil spirit talked back: “I know Jesus and I’ve heard of Paul, but who are you?” Then the possessed man went berserk and jumped on the exorcists.
17 It was soon news all over Ephesus among both Jews and Greeks. The realization spread that God was in and behind this. Curiosity about Paul developed into reverence for the Master Jesus.
[Acts 19:11-15, 17 The Message]
This story is wild. The entire book of Acts details the stories of early Christians who were filled with the Holy Spirit and acted as missionaries, doing miracles in the name of Jesus. The story above revolves around the miracles that Paul was doing. He had gained a strong reputation for performing miracles in the name of Jesus. Magicians, pagans, and others saw his works and attempted to replicate them. From a logical standpoint, this makes sense, right? I don’t think the Jewish exorcists in the story were crazy by any means, because they recognized that Paul was doing miracles, so they simply attempted to do the same. They were attempting to boil miracles down into a formula. They were missing something really important though. The Sons of Sceva were praying in the name of Jesus without believing in the power of that name. Those men didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, so the demons did not recognize their authority.
So, why is this cool? Why is this applicable to us? I’ll tell you! It is incredible that the demon possessed man knew exactly who Paul was and exactly who Jesus was. This tells us that they answer to the authority of Jesus and Paul. Guess what! The same Holy Spirit that filled Paul and the other prominent figures in Acts fills you up! That means that when you’re faced with the voices of loneliness, depression, and things that are scary, that you can respond to those things with the authority of Jesus.
How would you respond?
A wise friend of mine wondered what we might say if we had been confronted by the demon possessed man. How would we respond if we were asked “I know Jesus and I’ve heard of Paul, but who are you?”. So it matters what we think of ourselves? It matters what we believe about our identity? Absolutely. When we know where we stand, we can be brave and confident when we face hardships. My friend reminded herself and her peers that we could respond like this:
“My name is ____________, and I am a daughter/son of the Living God, who is seated in Heavenly places. Who are you?”
I think sometimes it is really easy to forget that we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. It is wild to think that the demons knew to stay away from Paul and Jesus. They recognize children of God. I think it is probably really satisfying for the enemy to see us believing that we don’t carry authority or power. It is advantageous for him when we think that we are weak and he is strong. But man, I think it’s cool that if we were faced with the man in this story, that he would stop and listen to us if we responded that we, alongside Paul, were disciples of Jesus.
But I am reminded constantly that the loudest voice in the room is God’s, and that it isn’t selfish or silly to declare that truth over myself. So, we can learn from that story in Acts 19. We learn that the things that might be scary or annoying don’t get to have the final word. We learn that even the demons that boldly walked around in Biblical times knew that they had to submit to the authority of the Holy Spirit.
God, fill me up with Your spirit. Give me boldness and courage to declare Your truth over myself. Remind me of my identity as Your child. I am who You say I am, and I can trust the Holy Spirit living inside of me. Lead me into deeper intimacy with You. I love You. Amen.