By Pastor David M. Choi
Along with the other apostles, Paul shares in the extraordinary experience of performing miracles. And like Simon the Magician (8:18-21), the wannabe exorcists see from afar that the apostle has something they want. Power. Indeed, how does this man perform such wonders? Well, they hear Paul invoking the name of the Lord Jesus. So, maybe if they invoke Christ’s name, then they also will be able to perform similar signs.
The sons of Sceva see only power. But what they do not understand is that this power stems from a relationship that Paul and the other disciples have with Jesus. We already know that this is not a power they inherently posses, but it is the power of God at work in and through them (v.11). Therefore, when the evil spirits encounter the poser-exorcists, they mock them, and say, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you? (v.15)” You see, the evil spirits always recognize Jesus, because he is their greatest threat (Matt. 8:28-30; James 2:19), and that’s why they even recognize Paul, because the evil spirits know that the presence and power of their greatest threat is now at work within him.
You can invoke the name of Jesus all you want, and do many good deeds that look like Christian acts of service. But if you do not have a genuine relationship with Jesus, if you don’t actually know him, and if it is not by the Spirit’s power, then your works have no power against evil, sin, or injustice. Evil does not care about who you are. You are not impressive to the demons. Evil will only tremble before its greatest enemy. It will only recognize the one who actually has the power to do it any harm. Jesus Christ. Thus, good deeds that do not flow from the power of one’s relationship with the triune God in Christ are more than just futile, but they leave one utterly exposed to spiritual counterattack.
If you want to fight against the evil spirits of this world, just know that the evil spirits will fight back. In their attempt to do good, the evil spirits fought back, and severely wounded and overpowered the sons of Sceva (v.16). We now have our warning: If we ever try and do the work of Jesus without joining ourselves to the life of Jesus, we may also be overcome by evil. So, you best not go unprepared or alone. You cannot live for Christ without actually living with Christ. Apart from him, we will accomplish nothing, and, without him, we’ll only be left sitting there exposed.
Caught in any patterns of sin lately? Feeling tired, exhausted, unmotivated, or discouraged these days? Feeling overwhelmed by guilt or shame? Perhaps these are signs that you’ve already been overcome – and maybe you didn’t even know it. But even so, you can turn to Christ again, and ask for his salvation. In his presence alone, by the grace of his power alone, let us live for Christ today, and do good works in his name.
Lord, everyday, I draw strength from being with you, from spending time with you, and from knowing you. You are my portion forever. As you’ve called me to, I want to live for you, but I know living for you doesn’t amount to much if I’m not actually living with you. From this place of rest, help me to go about the life of Christian service, as you protect me from the forces of evil and darkness. Let all that I do and all that I am be saturated with your holy and loving presence. Amen.