Acts: Seven Sons of Sceva and Riot in Ephesus

Read: Acts 19:8-41

Two contrasting stories are recorded by Luke in this passage. In the first, God does amazing work through Paul which bolsters believers but unfortunately encourages copycat ministries. The improper reaction of a few doesn’t go well, but God uses the Seven Sons of Sceva for good and the church grows. The second story involves a riot in Ephesus that was ultimately quelled by the city clerk. One of the key quotes in this story is found in verse 32, “Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” Over 2,000 years ago it seems that our modern, civilized world hasn’t changed much. Listen carefully to what the Spirit is whispering to your heart as you finish chapter 19. May God bless your reading today.

We continue reading stories that fit a recurring theme of: “some will, some won’t so move on.” There’s only so much energy that can be applied toward those who are so hardheaded and obstinate.

But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. Acts 19:9

While we should learn from this lesson, I pray we aren’t too hasty in our judgment. Luke provides only a few words here, but I believe Paul invested quite a bit of time in working with these people before deciding to leave them. We should not expect everyone to jump on board, we need to be patient.

Seven Sons of Sceva

Then there are these knuckleheads. Seeing the amazing work of the Spirit through Paul, they decide to go around and cast out demons using an indirect approach:

In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out. Acts 19:13

Spiritual warfare is not a subject that is often taught, certainly not from the pulpit. People might think we’ve gone overboard, lost our minds, or simply left reality behind. Yet we know we are spiritual beings. Eternity is all around us, it is what we long for.

The sons found out the hard way when they were attempting to cast out a demon in the name of Jesus via Paul.

One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. Acts 19:15-16

Naked and bleeding, the ultimate shame, they run out into the streets. Holy ____ this is real! While the story is humorous, at least to me, the reaction is serious.

Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. Acts 19:18-19

The way of the Lord grew incredibly because of this rather bizarre event. People were shaken from their self-made gods to see the light that Jesus provides.

Riot in Ephesus

Ephesus is a big place. While one area experienced revival another is challenged. The uproar began when Demetrius, a prominent silversmith, addressed workers in his trade as well as other craftsmen in the area.

He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty. Acts 19:26-27

We might mock such behavior, but for these people, such words fueled an emotionally charged response that quickly grew. Luke says, “soon the whole city was in an uproar (Acts 19:29). I’m avoiding the temptation to suggest this like riots in our modern culture because it’s a bit of apples to oranges comparison, but perhaps it’s not so far off target. We’ve seen street interviews during riots where the people are unable to express the views of the organizers, they’re simply caught up in the spectacle.

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. Acts 19:32

Anger incites anger. It’s a vicious cycle that is completely destructive.

An unlikely hero emerges when the city clerk took charge of the assembly. Like other stories we’ve read, the voice of calm and reason wins out.

…you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. Acts 19:36

His argument is based in favor of their goddess, Artemis. He’s not actually speaking on behalf of the disciples or of Paul for preaching that their gods are not gods. Not at all. The clerk’s concern is politically motivated. The last thing he wants is to answer to Rome for a public disturbance! It’s better for him to point people to their court system for resolution and not act like fools.

His argument wins the day and the riot is quelled. This is not a recommendation to embrace the legal system for Christian arguments. I think this is more of an argument to work within the context where we are attempting to spread the Gospel. It’s a reminder to choose battles wisely and remain calm. While there is no guarantee of a calm resolution, the possibility outweighs the result of an uproar.

It’s not a clearcut lesson. I think that’s the point. As our ministry grows, expect opposition from the insiders as well as the outsiders. Lean on the Spirit for guidance. Use these examples to increase our wisdom.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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