The Astorian had an article a few months back about an artisan in Astoria who had started making objects to assist people in worshiping the old Norse gods. Given the neo-paganism of our modern culture and the ethnic background of many residents of the north coast, this person hoped to make a living in that way. Even modern mankind looks for power, for an ability to control life, and tends to look in the wrong places. Some Oregonians, like the Ephesians, see nothing wrong with idolatry—especially if there’s a profit to be made from it. In Acts 19:17-20, you are pointed to the power of the word of God.
Do not turn away from God. Mankind seeks power from other gods. For the Ephesians the proper worship of Artemis, the fertility goddess, ensured good crops and prosperity. Magical practicies were common. “Ephesian scripts” was a term for (expensive) written incantations. The activity of Sceva and his sons was an indication of the influence of magic and spells. Today some openly identify their religion as Wician. Many more consider themselves spiritual, but not part of an organized religion. Others, perhaps in politics or business, are less concerned with “spirituality,” but more interested in raw power. Governments become more totalitarian, requiring compliance with whatever the current politically correct dogma is.
Understand the conflict in which you are involved. This is not just the “culture wars.” Ultimately you are involved in a conflict in which the participants are spiritual powers, as Paul would later write to this church, Ephesians 6:12. That character of the conflict became clear in the activity of Sceva and his sons (Acts 19:13-16), who find out that the name of Jesus is not a mechanical tool for incantations. The attack by the evil spirit exposes the futility of their efforts. The confessing of evil deeds (Acts 19:18) may have gone beyond repentance of moral failings to include revealing formerly secret incantations, the practitioners having formerly believed that they had to be kept secret or they would lose their power. The impact of the gospel is seen in the value of the scrolls that were burned (50,000 drachma=a year’s wages for 200 men). Isaiah 44 makes clear that the living and true God is the one that speaks, and all competitors are worthless. Furthermore, those who worship idols become like them. The conflict is not just between God’s people and spiritual powers. It is ultimately a personal battle, in which the Seed of the woman crushes the head of the serpent.
Trust the powerful word of God. Recognize the impact of God’s word. The lecture hall of Tyrannus (was he named by his students?) became the location for the proclamation of the good news. Paul spent an extended period of time in this city, and even the surrounding areas heard the word and churches were planted. The miracles in v. 11 seem parallel to those worked by Peter. But they are mentioned following the spread of the gospel. They were a visible form of the good news. The power of the word is seen in the conversion of practitioners of magic and in the impact on the sale of images of Artemis. Could you imagine the dark underbelly of the Internet going into panic mode because so many people had become Christians and were living consistently with their profession—so that traffic to their sites dropped radically?! When God’s word has an impact, prepare for opposition. The silversmiths reacted when their income was affected, and those who feel threatened by God’s word will oppose his people today.
Put God’s powerful word to work in your life this week. Start by making sure that your own life is lived under the influence of the word of God. Are you reading it? If not, how much is it guiding you? The word certainly speaks to the issues of our culture, though efforts are made to silence it. What you can do is make sure that in your circle of influence, in your family, among those you are close to, the word stands supreme. You can speak that word to those around you. Does that appear to be so little in the chaos of our world? Remember that those who pursue other gods are ultimately living in a false world of their own construction. “Reality is not as the devotees of magic, ancient or modern, suppose it to be. While God’s word reveals that unseen spiritual creatures, both good and evil, influence human life, it also makes clear that God alone is the creator and ultimate controller of all that happens. . . . Advocates of religious pluralism, who view different faiths as alternative avenues to the divine or as complementary components to be combined at will, are living in a world fabricated by human imagination. The reality is that Jesus is Lord of all, and salvation is found in no name other than his.” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 183).
That word of God has to permeate all of your life. As it does, notice the beneficent character of the miracles. God’s word not only calls you to stop sinning, it summons you to replace sinful habits with those that glorify God and serve those around you.
“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” shouted the mob at Ephesus. First century Christians, and those that walk in their steps have a simple but firm response: Jesus is Lord! That is a powerful confession, not only because it speaks of his sovereignty over all and his final victory, but also because it implies the relevance of his powerful word to all that you do. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus said. And then he commanded you, his church, to go and make disciples.