I have always loved the story of the Sons of Sceva (Acts 19). To me it’s pretty funny that these guys think they can exorcise a demon only to wind up naked, wounded, and running away. I like to laugh at these goons.
But I’m not really laughing as hard this morning. It’s easier to laugh when I distance myself from them. Today I don’t feel so different than these Sons of Sceva.
I could easily seem myself trying the same thing as the Sceva kids. Yeah, I don’t really try to exorcise demons. But in a way I kind of do. I preach in the hopes that people may turn from darkness to light. I counsel people. I teach. I write. I plan programs/ministries. I do many things with the hopes of overturning darkness and healing those wounded by evil.
And I sometimes undertake this “ministry” the same way Sceva’s boys did it:
“By my degree in Christian Education I adjure you…” “By the Jesus I read about in a Piper book I command you…” “By the name of Jesus that I learned about in Romans: Syntax and Exegesis be healed” “By the wisdom and power of John Newton’s Jesus be gone Satan…”
The danger of second-hand faith
A second-hand faith doesn’t have any power. Not because the degree of second-hand faith is deficient, but because that faith is misplaced. A second-hand faith has its object as a person that has faith, or even faith itself. But the only type of faith that matters is the faith that is placed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Second-hand faith will only leave you wounded, naked, and running. This goes for life and this goes for ministry. It’s not enough to simply speak about Jesus, or know about Jesus, what is required for hell-jarring ministry and living is actually knowing and believing Jesus Himself.
None of this is to discredit the importance of reading good Christian books. I’m not at fault for admiring Newton. In fact I’d be stupid not to. I’m at fault whenever I stop there. If reading John Newton doesn’t lead me to worship His Jesus then I’m wasting my time and not reading him rightly. Same goes with my pursuit of a degree at SBTS. This labor and sweat is meant to lead to more passionate worship. If it doesn’t then I’m wasting my time and only training myself to be a better son of Sceva.
The only source of power
This story isn’t primarily a call to not be like the sons of Sceva. This story is primarily about the power of the word of God. Notice in 19:20 that Luke sums up the story by saying, “so the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily”.
Did you notice that? Earlier we saw that the demons “overpowered” the sons of Sceva. Why? Because they only had a second-hand faith. But look what the word actually does. It overpowers or “prevails mightily” over the darkness.
We see this illustrated in the bonfire. These former magicians realized that Jesus is more powerful than silly magic or feeble Jewish exorcists. They came to place their faith in Jesus and it caused some serious repentance. Not only did these former magicians come together to confess their sin but they also burned their old books in the sight of all. At this bonfire they burned some (in today's’ currency) 6 million dollars worth of goods. That’s some serious repentance.
What brings about this change? The powerful name of Jesus displayed in His proclaimed Word.
So, I’m convinced that if I want to see a massive bonfire of repentance then I probably have a few “magic books” that I need to throw in the fire myself. I have some second-hand things that I am trusting in to be successful in ministry. If I trust in these things I’ll wind up naked, wounded, and running. But if I stake all my life and ministry on the power of Jesus and His Word then I might see a $6 million bonfire.