Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Acts 19

May 15th, 2010 by Vic

“The Occult and Mysticism”

May 16, 2010

I was reading an article about Marcus Borg’s new book Putting Away Childish Things, a Tale of Modern Faith. Borg is professor emeritus in the philosophy department at Oregon State University, and the author of the New York Times best-selling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. He says, “Jesus as a historical figure was not the same as the gospels portray him. This [is] especially the case in John’s gospel which is a very developed layer of the tradition.” In other words, Jesus did not regard Himself as the Son of God, or Messiah, or the Bread of Life, etc.  Jesus did not come to Earth to die as the Lamb of God. All these things were claimed for Him, after His death, by His followers (pages 238-239). Borg says that Jesus would never have asserted, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).  Jesus is one of many ways to God.

Monvee is a web site set up by a Christian Leadership Network that markets itself as a way for Christians to draw closer to God through “Spiritual Formation.”  But, the Spiritual Formation techniques taught by Monvee are mystical meditation techniques identical to classic occult meditation practices taught in Hinduism, Buddhism, Wicca, neo-paganism, etc.  Mystical meditation is often compared to the same powerful experience generated by mind-altering drugs. But mystical meditation is far more dangerous than drugs.

Ephesus was a city full of mystics and occultists.  It was well known for its magical texts, amulets and spell books.  The spell books were small scrolls with a spell written on them.  They were put in small cylinders.  These were more than a good luck charm.  They were purported to contain a powerful spirit.

Paul comes to Ephesus and demonstrates the power of a relationship with the living God.  He does not give a class on Spiritual Formation.  He does not give another formula or ritual on how to draw near to God.  Paul says the kingdom of God has come.  Wherever men believe in Jesus that is where God rules and reigns.  The Creator God is more powerful than any man made gods.

19:1-7

Paul did not take the main Roman road through Colossae and Laodicea but took the more direct route through the Cayster Valley to get back to Ephesus as soon as possible.  He met 12 Christians who had not heard that the Holy Spirit had come at Pentecost.  They knew that John the Baptist had promised a future baptism of the Spirit, but did not know it had taken place.

Some suggest these were traveling disciples of John the Baptist who had left Palestine after John was beheaded.  Others suggest these were converts of Apollos when he was only familiar with the Gospel of Mark and before he met Aquila and Pricilla.  Some say they were not Christians because every Christian receives the Holy Spirit when they are saved.  But Paul calls them believers.  Whatever scenario you choose, the fact is that these men receive the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit is visibly confirmed in their lives like it was to the Jews at Pentecost.  A relationship with the Spirit of Jesus is powerful.

The baptism of John was preparation.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit is celebration.  The forgiveness that John preached and the Promised Spirit has been confirmed.  Jesus is seated on the throne and has sent the Holy Spirit to continue His work and unite all Christians in His love.

This paragraph reminds us that not everyone becomes a Christian the same way.  Not everyone is baptized the same way.  Not everyone receives the Holy Spirit the same way.  This is an example of receiving the Holy Spirit but is not a pattern.  Our unity is not in a formula or set ritual but in the many-colored grace of Christ.  We are most united when we are different.  All believers are baptized by one Spirit into one body, but do not become clones.  This probably means that Christians and churches can have a sincere but incomplete knowledge of the Gospel.

19:8-12

The power of Paul’s preaching in Ephesus is reported briefly.  Paul spoke regularly in the synagogue for 3 months.  Three months without a riot was a record for Paul.  Most of these Jews were very open to Paul’s understanding of the OT.  A few became obstinate.  These few refused to believe.  They chose not to believe and slandered those who did.

Hoping to avoid more confrontation with the Jews, Paul quit meeting in the synagogue, hired the lecture hall of Tyrannus and the Christians met there during the lunch/siesta hours for 2 years.  During this time the rest of the 7 churches listed in Revelation were planted.  Everyone in Asia heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  During this time Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthian church.

The power of Paul’s witness was assumed to be magically passed on by his old sweat bands and worn out aprons.  What he threw away was more powerful than what the exorcists claimed to have.  In Mark 5:27 a woman is healed by touching Jesus’ garment.  In Acts 5, Peter’s shadow was said to have power.  In 2 Kings 13:21 a dead man’s body was brought to life when it touched Elisha’s bones.  In this occult infested culture that believed in the power of unseen spirits Paul’s clothing could be magical and it brought good money.  They knew Paul was a powerful man of God so his sweat must have magical power to curse or bless.

What they failed to see was that “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul (11).”  Paul was not promoting his ministry of healing.  He did not claim any power to heal.  God was doing it.  Paul was being obedient and God was working through him.

19:13-16

We do not know much about these exorcists.  We do know that some Jews (Masons) used what they claimed was the secret wisdom of Solomon to cast out demons even though any involvement in the occult is forbidden in the OT.  Sceva claims to be a high priest.  There is no record of a high priest with this name.  Exorcists travelled around from place to place like Gypsy fortune-tellers.  They had apparently seen Paul cast out demons successfully and assumed his words were a magic charm or spell that had power to perform.  They tried to copy Paul by saying, “In the name of the Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out (13).”  Then they tried to cast out a demon who was smarter than they were.  He knew that the name of Jesus was not magic.  The power was in a relationship not a formula (Acts 1:8).  The man possessed by this demon received the super strength to beat the tar out of these 7 brothers.

We are not to be involved in magic or the occult.  There are no grey areas.  Deut 18:10 says these are detestable practices to the Lord your God.  Those who have been involved in these practices give the strongest warning about its dangers.  Evil spirits are real.  People do not usually claim to be part of an occult group.  In our culture they may claim to be Neo-pagan.  Wiccans may be the most prominent group of neo-pagans in the US today.

Our culture is addicted to power, even dark spiritual power because they believe it can get them what they want out of life.  Neo-pagans who contact and experience evil spirits say they were terrified, but they go back for more because their spiritual experience was very real.  Much of the power of the occult is in its secrecy.  It loses its power when its emptiness is revealed.

Even though Ephesus was the center of the occult for Asia, Christianity is taking hold.  When the Christians heard about the power encounter with the sons of Sceva, they were terrified.  Most of these new Christians had been part of the occult and had believed its lies.  The power of God changed their lives.

19:17-20

People in the church who had become Christians were still holding on to some old books and charms of their former way of life.  Maybe some practicing exorcists who knew they were phonies now renounced their evil and became believers.  For some these books were their livelihood, but they lost their power when people quit believing their lies.  Christians cleaned out their homes and the church grew powerfully.  When the people got rid of their stuff the church grew.  You won’t have an appetite for God if your life is full of junk food.

Christians can be demon obsessed but not demon possessed.  The demons knew Paul and Jesus.  Do they know you?

19:21-22

Paul’s heart was to go to cities where the Gospel has not yet been heard.  He hoped to deliver an offering to the Jerusalem church then go through Rome and collect some support for a missionary journey to Spain.

19:23-41

Only 2 times in Paul’s ministry are we told that Gentiles opposed him: here and in chapter 16 where the young girl fortune teller was healed.  In both cases satan used vested monetary interests.  When our pocketbook is affected we can rationalize our greed with a pious sermon about the damage being done to our religion and stir up people to defend their god.

The normal pagan worshipper would make offerings to the god Artemis with the promise that their fields and or businesses would be prosperous.  The temple was the state bank and it was prosperous so giving offerings must make you prosper.  Ernie Madoff is rich so we should invest where he tells us.  As the church grew, less people shopped in the temple and occult souvenir shops.  Christians were making a difference.

Paul and the church do not attack the temple of Artemis.  They serve Jesus.

A silversmith named Demetrius begins to see the handwriting on the wall.  His job was at stake.  Christians are getting rid of all their magical trinkets.  These terra cotta and silver amulets are cheap at garage sales.  They were a little replica of the temple with a little goddess inside.  The market for new sales was drying up.  Also many tourists are coming just to hear Paul preach not visit the temple, one of the 7 wonders of the world.

Paul was telling people that man made gods or idols are not really gods (26).  Literally it reads there are no gods that came to be with man’s hands or through man’s vision.  The gods that man creates are those we can control and understand.  We build a god that makes sense to us.  That is how Wicca was started and how it continues today.

A Christian High School for girls in NYC had a class on world religions.  The most popular religion was Wicca.  While studying this religion one assignment was to create a goddess like the founders of the group did in the 1920’s and then list the attributes of your goddess.  Every girl created a goddess that was a reflection of herself.  That is idolatry.  The god we create is ourselves.

Demetrius called a meeting of all the trades people associated with the temple business.  They knew that their creations were not gods, but as you worship the object and give it your devotion, they knew the spirit of the god began to magically inhabit the object.  They were creators of occult objects that allowed people to contact evil spirits.  But a change in spiritual powers was happening in the whole region.  A more powerful Spirit was shaking their security and their future.

It looks like it is all about money.  There was a financial crisis and this was the central bank.  There was an unemployment problem.  But the root of the problem was spiritual warfare.  This new religion is more powerful than the old traditional worship of Artemis.  They said they needed to fight for their beliefs and defend their god Artemis.

As Christians, when we have people or situations that seem to come against us, what is really happening may not be what appears to be happening.  When Paul later writes back to the Ephesians he says in 6:12, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Life is not just what you see and touch.

This stadium would seat over 25,000.  Some say as many as 50,000.  Paul had no fear about confronting the mob directly, but some friends who were on the ruling council (Asiarchs) stopped him.  The Asiarchs were members of the noblest and wealthiest families in Asia.  Each year a new Asiarch was appointed, but the old ones remained on the ruling council for life.

The Jews wanted to make it clear that Paul was not associated with them so they pushed Alexander to the front.  However, the people knew that Jews did not buy their trinkets either.

The city mayor finally quieted the mob and spoke some sense into them.  His job was at stake.  If the Romans heard there was a riot, then he would be replaced.  The Romans prided themselves in the peace of Rome.  The mayor said these matters can be settled in the regular “ekklesia”.  A few artisans loosing their income is not as critical as Rome coming to squelch a riot.

The Christians were turning the world right side up.  They were telling people about Jesus.  His kingdom has come.  As His kingdom grows then other things will decrease.  Paul did not confront evils, but affirmed the Truth in Christ Jesus.

The fullness of Christ reveals the emptiness of man’s ways.  The neo-pagan religions only have power if you believe their lies.  The secretive power they have is to destroy not to create.  This chapter is about a power encounter.  Believe in Jesus.  Turn from your empty ways and receive life abundantly.  Jesus is Lord of lords.  He is still seated on the throne.

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