Have you ever wondered if people who claim to heal in Jesus’ name are true healers or fake healers? If so, you’re not alone. People have had the same question throughout history, and we see that in the passage from Acts 19:11-20.
In Paul’s time, there was a belief in the spiritual power of articles fashioned in the image of a god or blessed in its shrine. God blessed the prayers of people who held these articles of Paul’s clothing because He knew of the apostle’s faithfulness to point away from himself to God as the true source of his healing power.
The fact that the miracles occurred in the manner of garments that had touched Paul’s body was a sign to the people concerned that the miracle was performed by Paul. Similarly, in Mark 7:33, when Jesus put his fingers in the ears of the deaf man and spit and touched his tongue, it was a sign that the healing came from Jesus. The bearing of these pieces of material to the sick was evidence that Paul had the same miraculous healing power.
Paul served as God’s conduit of power much like Peter and John did in Jerusalem. At the time of these miracles, Paul was in Ephesus. Exorcists and magicians were forces of evil. Evil held the city of Ephesus so tightly that God had to exercise even greater and more unusual divine power to break its grip.
There were Jews who wandered from place to place and practiced exorcisms. They used either an oath or the name of God to convince the demons to leave the bodies of the people they possessed. God does not like it when people use His name for purposes that are not in accordance with faith. Demons know Jesus and God, and God used this knowledge when He punished these false healers. The demons resisted because they knew the people who were performing exorcisms were not believers.
There are still fortune tellers, astrologers and palm readers today, and many of them take advantage of people. For example, someone once wrote to Billy Graham. She said, “I’m facing some hard decisions, so recently I went to a woman who claimed she could tell the future and give me some guidance by reading my palm. But what she said was kind of vague and not very helpful. Did I waste my money?”
Billy Graham replied:
“Yes, you did, and I hope you won’t seek out anything like this again. Most of those who claim they can foretell someone’s future are only taking advantage of them, and their advice (as you’ve discovered) is vague and unhelpful—and sometimes worse. …Although such things are often fraudulent, you could also find yourself coming into contact with occult powers and demonic spiritual forces that are dangerous and opposed to God. That is why the Bible commands us not to have anything to do with occult practices of any kind.”
When the gospel was unleashed with genuine spiritual reality, there was power. The people at the church in Ephesus were genuinely repentant, and their changed lives led to revival. The change did not happen overnight. It took two years for Paul to see signs of hope. Those who were practicing witchcraft or performing exorcisms saw that what they were doing was wrong after they came to God in faith. They showed true repentance with outward signs of turning away from sin when they burned their books and tools publicly. This sacrifice was an expensive one money-wise. Extraordinary things happen when faith meets God. God loves to honour His word so that it will grow mightily and prevail. If we want to relate to such a name of God, we must faithfully proclaim His word through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Ephesians who repented and burned their tools are a good example for us. God takes people where they are. Christianity has the power to encourage people to turn from their evil ways. Those who have been engaged in sinful practices will abandon them when they become Christians. Their hatred of their former, sinful lives will be, and should be, expressed as publicly as their sin was. Their sinful lives will be abandoned at any sacrifice, no matter how great.
Jesus still has power today. What Jesus did in Paul’s time, He’ll do on earth now through the power of the Holy Spirit-the Spirit who lives in all believers. When we are in Christ and He is in us, we are the most powerful people in the world.
What happened in Ephesus can happen to an individual today. The hardening of the heart occurs gradually and silently. Meanwhile, God continues to point out secret faults. The truth confronts us daily but it glances off our hard hearts. Becoming pliable means that we must surrender and abandon everything we’ve used as a substitute for a personal relationship with Jesus.
God challenges us to think about what this means in our lives today. What are the things that we put our trust in even after we are saved? Money? Possessions? People? Human capabilities? Those who came to faith in Christ through Paul’s ministry participated in moral reform. Sometimes ministers preach reform today before people have received the power to make necessary changes. Often, we preach our standards of behavior so loudly that people can’t hear what we are saying about Christ. When that happens, they are put off and miss the only power that can help them change. Behavior change follows belief in Christ.
When we receive the Holy Spirit, He confronts the false gods in our lives. In the context of His love we can wrestle with the Bible’s guide for giving to God. Our offerings are released for the work of ministry through Christian congregations. When the message and the mission agree, the total life of the congregation becomes authentic.
Preaching and teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit will produce results. We will be changed. Then we will be ready to be introduced to the adventure called a life with God. When Christ rules in all areas of our lives, attitudes and values that are contrary to the Gospel will be exposed. Only then can we who are changed band together to claim the power of the Holy Spirit to change our homes, places of work and communities.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1520)
- Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp.276-279)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “Empowerment.” Retrieved from www.joniandfriends.org
- Billy Graham, “Should I Have Seen a Palm Reader?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
- Pete Briscoe, “Experiencing Life Today.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com