Who Are You?

“Who are you?”

Acts 19:11-20

Introduction: I grew up in a city of 26,000 people. When the university was in session, the town doubled. My father was well-known and was a prominent member of many ruling boards. For one particular season of my life, my father was elected to the city council and even served as the “mayor pro tem” (filling in until a new mayor was elected and in place” He was also a respected dentist. I could go almost anywhere, and people would refer to me as “Doc Karnes’ boy.”

Add to that, I was the youngest of three children. My brother was tough as nails and my sister was second in her high school class. When I got to high school the teachers would either say, “You’re Mark Karnes’ brother” or ask, “Your sister is Kathy Karnes?” The reference to my brother by a teacher was not a good one. Because of association, they assumed I would be the same jokester and troublemaker. On the other hand, being Kathy’s brother brought an assumption of excellent behavior and scholarly work.

It was tough to make a name for myself—to find out what I could do and who I could become. So, after my sophomore year of college, I transferred to Belmont and began carving out my own reputation. I love my family, but it was nice to be Mitchell, instead of somebody’s brother or son. I discovered a love for teaching, a passion for writing, and a life of ministry.

God was Working (Acts 19:11-12) – Our passage today begins with the words, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” Now, I don’t want you to miss the point, so I’m going to address the elephant in the verse. This is not about magical handkerchiefs or aprons. We’re not going to put them for sale on our website and promise a Heavenly blessing. That’s the exact opposite of the point here.

The key is: “God was performing extraordinary miracles…” In this case, God chose to do them through Paul. It’s not about Paul’s power. It’s about God’s. Paul became the conduit through which God blessed and healed the people. This is the same issue Paul emphasized in his first letter to the church in Corinth. They were bickering over who they followed, Apollos or Paul. Paul said this: “For when one says, ‘I am of Pau,’ and another, “I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:4-7). It’s not about us. It’s all about God. You must understand this point before the rest of the story makes sense.

Religious Myths (Acts 19:13-16) – If this wasn’t a sad story, it would be hilarious. Henry Blackaby always said, “Find out where God is working and join Him there.” I don’t think The Seven Sons of Sceva understood His point. Luke continues his account, saying, “But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempting to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, ‘I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

Can you imagine it? You’re sitting in the service minding your own business and the staff decide to perform an exorcism. When all is said and done, the possessed person has beaten them all at once and chased them away naked and afraid. It doesn’t bode well for the church leaders. It doesn’t bode well for the church. It makes it appear that the devil’s powers are stronger than God’s. If that’s what you were thinking as I read the passage, hang with me. This isn’t about God’s weakness—He has none. This is about three religious myths. Let’s examine them closer.

The Three Myths:

  • Knowing the Message & Method are Enough – Attending a worship service or a Bible study and hearing the lesson does not save you. Following the pastor’s three points does not save you. These acts can lead to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, but hearing and reading only do not. “James tells us, “…prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). The seven sons of Sceva deluded themselves into believing they were powerful just because they heard Paul’s message. They were not.

The Seven Sons thought a cursory knowledge of the message was enough to protect them. They knew about Jesus, thanks to Paul, but they did not know Jesus. James addresses this myth by saying, “You believe that God is one. You do well;” (Pause) Wait for it. He’s not finished. You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). At least the demons shudder. They know who Jesus is and what He can do. However, that knowledge didn’t save them.

You could tell the Seven Sons didn’t know Jesus, for when they came upon the possessed man, one of them said, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” They attempted to “command” the demons to leave based on “Jesus whom Paul preaches.” How lame is that? Of course, Jesus could command them. The demons knew who He was and cowed to His authority and power. The truth is, you can’t rely on second-hand knowledge of God. You need to know Him personally. That’s why God could perform miracles “by the hands of Paul.” The Apostle Paul had submitted himself to God. If you think you’re a Christian just because you’ve heard the Gospel, you’re sadly mistaken. Let’s move on to the second religious myth.

Giving an analogy about heaven and salvation, Anne Graham Lotz told a story about her father Billy Graham. She said one day a man buzzed at the gate and asked Billy to let him in. Billy said no. The man pleaded with Billy, saying, “I’ve heard you preach, and I’ve read all of your books. Please let me in. Billy said, “No. I’m not letting you in because I don’t know you. Only my family and my friends can come in.” Knowing what Billy Graham said and how he preached didn’t matter. Knowing Billy was everything. So it is with God and Heaven.

  • My Family and Friends Can Believe for Me – I’ve heard these claims many times before…maybe just not using those precise words. “My grampa laid the first brick in this church.” He may have, but it is still God’s church, not his. Besides, whatever act your grandfather did in faith isn’t credited to you. “My mom taught Sunday School there for forty years. Bless her heart. I hope she did it for the right reasons…because she knew the Truth and He set her free. Still, that doesn’t convince God to grant you entrance to Heaven. “My father was a deacon of that church for over three decades.” Good for him. My dad was too. Still, I had to come to my own saving knowledge of Jesus. Get the point? Our passage tells us, “Seven sons of on Sceva, a Jewish chief, were doing this” (James 19:14). They were the Seven Sons of Sceva. He was a chief priest. I’m sure they were known by their father, much like I was by mine in Carbondale. After all, we still refer to them as the Seven Sons of Sceva. The evil spirits didn’t care whose sons they were. The question posed to the sons was, “Who are you?”

When John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, a group of Pharisees and Sadducees came to critique him and stop his preaching. Knowing that time and time before the religious leaders had claimed their heritage as their rightful birthplace in the kingdom, John called them a brood of vipers…poisonous snakes. He then reminded them, saying, “‘Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham’” (Matthew 3:9). They were only descendants of Abraham physically, not spiritually. Abraham believed in God. God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness (being right in God’s eyes (Genesis15:6). God didn’t credit Abraham’s descendants with righteousness because of Abraham’s faith. They were each accountable directly to God.

  • I Can Do it by My Own Power (Acts 19:15-16) – The seven sons went into this encounter believing they could succeed by their own power. They heard the message of Paul. They saw how Paul was doing it. They invoked the name of Jesus, the god Paul used. They were direct descendants of a chief priest. So! This is the part of the story I find comical. Listening to the sons invoke the name of Jesus by connection to Paul, the evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15). It’s like a DeNiro moment. The evil spirit listened to the seven men talk and talk and attempt to command him, and then he said something to the effect of, “You talking to me? Are you talking to me?”

Then “the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16). How embarrassing. How humiliating. How insightful.

The Keys and Purpose to True Power (Acts 19:17-20) – Let me begin with the purpose of the power. Then I’ll show how to possess it. God worked miracles through Paul not just to heal the sick and free the possessed. Jesus performed many miracles. John hints at the reason for each and every one. John calls them “signs.” The miracle isn’t the treasure. After all, everyone of these individuals died and decayed. The treasure resides in the purpose of the miracles…to glorify God and to bring people into a saving relationship with Him through the One and Only Son of God, Jesus the Christ.

Luke writes, “This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”

The purpose of the miracles was two-fold: to spread the Gospel and the glory of God to all the world; to bring us to confession and faith in Jesus. That’s still the purpose of the church. We get so busy with so many things. God simplifies it this way; if it doesn’t bring Him praise or bring humanity closer to Him, discard it. Easy to say and believe. Very difficult to do. But it can and must be done if we wish to be a powerful conduit of God’s glory to the world.

Now, let me close with the Keys to the power. The keys are found in the contrast between Paul and the Seven Sons. Paul knew God. He came to faith in the Father through the life, death and resurrection of the Son. Because of his knowledge of God (God’s purity, holiness, and power), Paul realized how unclean, how wicked, and how weak he was. The seven sons were filled with hubris and thought they were entitled and empowered by their connection to their father.

The Bible tells us it is, “by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This knowledge must lead to faith and faith to action…surrender to God. This brings us back to James 4:7. Yes, I know I’ve quoted it before. I will continue to quote it and bring it up until we all learn to do it. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The keys go hand in hand. Submit to God. Resist the devil. Paul could perform miracles because he did it in God’s power and by God’s authority. The Seven Sons fled naked and beat up because they failed to submit and tried to resist by their own power.

You want to glorify God? You want to see that vision become a reality (Seeing lives transformed through the power of the Gospel to the glory of God)? You must have a personal, saving relationship with God the Father through Jesus the Son. Then surrender to God and He will empower you to resist the devil’s temptations and attacks.

Let’s pray.

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