11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ 14Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ 16Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books* was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
Paul becomes the focus of miracles, worked by the Holy Spirit. We have seen similar summaries of miracles before in Acts, when the disciples were teaching in the temple, for example, and people would find a place to sit along the road so that Peter’s shadow would touch them, and they would be healed. For the building of the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit sometimes works miracles. It happened in Cuba in our lifetime, and triggered a great revival there.
But there is a group who have been making money by traveling around, practicing exorcisms. They believed that what Paul was doing was magic, worked by the particular words he was saying. We must always be careful not to confuse our faith, or healing, or prayer, or the answer to prayer, with magic. Magic is attempting to control natural forces using incantations or voodoo dolls or anything else that really has no connection to the natural causes of what is happening. When we pray sincerely, we are communicating with God, letting him know what our needs and desires are. But when we begin to think that because we prayed God is somehow obligated to heal or make something happen, then we have crossed over into magic. Or, if we think the very act of our praying, or burning incense, or anything else causes something to happen, we have crossed over into magic. In this story the seven sons of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva think that they will try Paul’s “magic”. And so they command an evil spirit to come out of a man “by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” The evil spirit is not impressed – it (or the man possessed) says, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” and he (the man possessed) immediately attacks these fakers, so that they run for their lives, naked and wounded.
Even among the believers in Ephesus there were some who were still practicing magic. (If you are controlled by superstition, you could be doing the same thing!) They were impressed when this story got around, and many of them confessed what they had been doing and destroyed the books of magic they had collected. And the word of the Lord grew mightily in Ephesus, and the surrounding countryside.
This traveling band of exorcists had been profiting off the people, and used the name of Jesus to do so, and this was wrong. But their wrong was eventually shown up, and the name of Jesus, and the Kingdom of God, prevailed. This is a story that should give us hope – encourage us to remember that God can use bad things and bad times for good.