Itinerant exorcists. It was a thing. Jews who traveled the land expelling demons. Those who used formulaic catch phrases to cast out evil spirits. Jesus was aware of them (Lk. 11:19). They later traveled in the same circles as Paul (Acts 19:11-17).
There was a troupe of them in the Ephesus region. Among them, seven brothers, a family business. Sons of a Jewish high priest in Ephesus who was known as Sceva. I imagine that if they had a business card it might have read something like: “Down in the dumps with demons? Who ya gonna call? Seven Sons Housecleaning!”
Paul comes to Ephesus and they hear about the “extraordinary miracles” he’s doing (Acts 19:11). He didn’t even have to be present in order to heal diseases and cast out demons. To simply carry to the sick and shackled “handkerchiefs or aprons that touched his skin” was enough to restore and release. And I’m thinking that the Seven Sons got wind of Paul’s mighty “magic” and were wanting in on some of that power. After all, it would be good for business and reputation.
So, what was Paul doing that they weren’t? He was talking Jesus talk. Maybe that was the secret sauce. Or . . . maybe not.
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.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 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.
(Acts 19:13-16 ESV)
I adjure you by Jesus! Invoking the Name, but with nothing behind it.
Words without weight. Pronouncement without power. A sentence devoid of any substance. Simply a mantra missing any meaning. A command absent of content. Revelation, but no reality. That’s all the boys brought to the battle against “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). And they got whopped! Sent home to dad in shame.
“Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
Says something about the spiritual world. The evil spirits know who Jesus is. They recognize the Holy One of God when they encounter Him (Mk. 1:24). They’re all too aware of their indisputable submission to the Son of the Most High God (Mr. 5:7).
They’re also familiar with those called and commissioned by the Christ. Those once dead in trespass and sin and raised with power in newness of life and seated with Jesus in heavenly places (Eph. 2:5-6). Those who know the Word and are not simply mouthing the words.
Not saying that I’m looking to get into the itinerant exorcist business. Not looking to go one-on-one with a member of the forces of hell. But I am thinking that should I come face to face with such a foe, I want them to at least pause and think to themselves, “Hmm, him I recognize.”
Not because I’m anything. But because I authentically abide in the One who is everything.
Not because I fake the walk or mimic the talk. But because I have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). Because I seek to submit to, and be led by the Spirit, even as I battle the flesh (Gal. 5:16-17). Because I walk by faith, trusting in the promise that greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world (1Jn. 4:4).
And all this, by His grace and for His glory.