[This is the first sermon translated by Rev. Mike Furey for the Osaka Nozomi Church and the internet. Previous sermons by date in the list were actually translated much later.]
1. I read you today up to chapter nineteen and verse twenty. Recorded here is the state of the mission of Paul in Ephesus. I draw your attention to a phrase in verse nineteen, to a new situation which has not particularly been in the mission until now. "Again, many people who had practiced witchcraft brought their books on that subject and threw them to be burned in the sight of everyone. In estimating the value of it, it came to fifty thousand silver coins." Fifty thousand silver coins is a large sum of money. When you take one silver piece as roughly the day's pay of an average worker, it is proportionate to about one hundred thirty seven years of income. So many kinds of books on sorcery were present in that town of Ephesus because it was a metropolitan center for persons who performed the sorceries of that time. There had been a tremendous amount of sorcerers at Ephesus. Among them, as seen in today's passage, even Jewish conjurers were present. Incidentally, in the old world of sorcery, Jewish conjurers seemed to be regarded as superior because they were viewed as possessing the very mighty and powerful name of God. Even the sons of the Jewish high priest Sceva probably worked those kinds of magico-parapsychological practices. Paul entered into this kind of black-magical world. Therefore as for his mission in Ephesus he could not think of leaving out a showdown against this sorcery.
2. Well, when hearing the word "sorcery" most people may feel like they have nothing in common with it. But, when we break down it's true nature, the situation in Ephesus is not unrelated to our own. What is the root of the practice underlying sorcery? Sorcery in any of its forms manipulates supernatural power and divine power, and there is a human desire which wants to use it independently. Sorcery is the act of persistently trying to place humanity in the center of this world. That inevitably only calls forth human self-centeredness or egotism. Therefore, although a person has touched upon a supernatural phenomenon through the practice of witchcraft, such a practice in and of itself will never lead a person to obedience and love for God. Rather, it will only pull a person apart from God. In other words, the true focus of black-magical practices has no power but to put a distance between a person and God. In biblical language we would call that an evil spirit. When you define it like that then the practice of witchcraft as the work of an evil spirit appears in modern times as well although in a somewhat different form. The work of an evil spirit appears at times as channeling and other such occult practices like onomancy [fortune telling by reading the letters forming a person's name], divination, and incantations. It also appears as cults or the New Age movement. Or maybe even something like a self-improvement seminar. Indeed, in modern times it may even be said that we can see rather often as something having no religious appearance the work of an evil spirit controling a person with fear or desires and dragging him into sin and separating him from God. Later on Paul wrote the following to the church at Ephesus. "Our warfare does not have to do with flesh and blood (that is, with humans), but it has to do with governments and authorities, the rulers of the world of darkness, and various spirits of evil in the heavens," (Ephesians 6:12). This description is not Ephesus that was the center of sorceries; it could be said also about us who live in modern Japan.
By The Preaching Of God's Word
3. So, while Paul was in Ephesus how did he go about advancing the war against these powers of darkness? First I'd like us to see this point. Would he have turned to driving away evil spirits in the manner of the conjurers of that time? No, he would not. In the final analysis what he does is the same wherever he goes whether it be Ephesus or another town. It says the following under verse eight.
4. "Paul went into the synagogue, for three months he reasoned boldly concerning the kingdom of God and tried to persuade persons. But, certain persons were hardened and would not believe but criticized the way before the audience, so Paul separated from them and also made the disciples get out of there, then he reasoned daily in the lecture hall of a man named Tyrannus," (verses eight and nine).
5. Paul first of all more than anything continued to preach God's word. Luke tells us that the theme of Paul's messages was the kingdom of God. Paul preached the kingdom of God and the rule of God. He preached that the rule of God had already begun with the arrival of the person of Jesus. He preached the kingdom of God was opened to all persons who repent, believe on Jesus, and receive forgiveness for their sins. The Spirit of God has been poured out which was promised at the end times; a person can live in the midst of the real world which God is ruling with his presence* and grace. The kingdom of God starts like this and people are invited, so then at the end [of history as we now know it] the kingdom will be perfected at the second coming* of Christ. Paul continued to discuss this kingdom of God.
6. But, the message, that the grace of God's rule is opened to all persons who believe and not just Jews, had no choice but to collide with the heart felt ethnocentric sentiments of the Jewish people. Inspite of the fact Paul reasoned with them for three months, certain people became hardened and began to "criticize the way in front of the audience." Regretfully what had happened in other towns finally happened at Ephesus as well.
7. There, Paul broke off from the synagogue and changed places with the lecture hall of Tyrannus. On one side this is a lamentable thing, but it effectively became a boost to the progress of the work of the gospel because he got the chance to preach God's word every day and not limited only to Sabbath days. We don't know for certain whether Tyrannus was a teacher or the owner of the lecture hall. Whichever he was, we think it was a place where philosophy was lectured on in the mornings and evenings. He could use that place at day time because at the hot hours during the midday it was usual for not only schools but also public activities to come to a standstill. In that place Paul preached the word of God daily.
8. This activity shows how Paul and other Christians gave importance to the Word to be preached and heard. or other Christians. Paul spent the early mornings in tent making, applied himself to teaching during the hot hours of the midday when people took naps, and poured his entire energies into that work. Other Christians as well gathered to ferventlylisten to the Word at a time of day that never was pleasant and in a place you couldn't call the best of circumstances. In this way the Word was being taught, learned, spoken, heard, and passed on to others. What was the effect of such activity? "As this type of thing continued for two years, the people who lived in Asia, both Jew and Greek, everyone got to hear the word of the Lord," (verse ten).
"Signs" Or "Sorcery?"
9. So, it says the following after verse eleven. "Through the hand of Paul God performed remarkable miracles. As he took along a towel that he wore on his body and an apron, he applied it to the sick, then the sicknesses were healed and even the evil spirits left," (verses eleven through twelve).
10. What possibly could this mean? Could it be saying that Paul's spiritual powers were transferred to the towel and the apron? I once was surprised in hearing of an American televangelist who had a mail order business with handkerchiefs that he pressed his own hand print on, which was probably based on this passage. He sold them and supposedly sicknesses were cured when brought to the ill and touchedby them. If that's the case, could what has been recorded here be on a similar level?
11. I am somewhat dismayed by a subtitle inserted before verse eleven in the New Interconfessional Version (Shinkyohdo version) because a misunderstanding is generated at the place dividing everything up to verse ten with everything after verse eleven; for, the preaching of the word of God and the event of healing are both one and the same situation. In brief, the miracle of the healing is told as a sign to accompany the proclamation of the word of God. As the preaching of the kingdom of God is accompanied by signs which point out the kingdom of God, God himself has expressed the truth that his gracious rule has already begun. That's what it says here in the text [as a whole cloth]. Paul didn't simply perform healings of sickness or drive out evil spirits like the contemporary faith healers. He was persistently to the end devoted to proclaiming the kingdom of God.
12. I believe the kind of healing and miracle described in our text still happens in modern times. It's something I am familiar with and used to seeing and hearing because I have personal experience with this. Even if this type of thing has been seen in the contemporary church, we do not need to feel it odd at all. However, --there's something important here-- when seeking for healing from sickness and seeking just the signs themselves apart from the proclamation of God's word, we shouldn't forget that there is a danger which could turn up under the same classification as sorcery. When there is no preaching or hearing how we ought to repent and turn to God and live under the rule of God with him and we just seek for the healing of sickness or resolution to a problem, this winds up becoming the same thing as the work of sorcery. If sickness is healed like that and problems from God. So whenever one is separated from God one doesn't have true salvation. In miracles separated form the word of God, there is no salvation for people.
13. We believe there were a lot of people back then who were just mesmerized by those particular miracles of Paul and not with hearing the word of God or seeking the kingdom of God. Among such people there were Jewish faith healers as well who toured each area. The seven sons of the high priest Sceva were among those people. Please refer to verse thirteen on.
14. "By the way, even among the Jewish faith healers who walked around from area to area as they faced persons possessed by evil spirits and called on the name of the Lord Jesus in a test, the men said, 'In the name of Jesus which Paul has been preaching we do command you.' The seven sons of the high priest Sceva have done this. The evil spirits answered them back. 'We know Jesus. We also know Paul well. But, who could you be?' So, the man possessed by the evil spirits jumped these faith healers, pinned them down, gave them a rough time, and they were made naked, wounded, and fled out of that house. As this became well known by all the Jews and Greeks who lived in Ephesus the people all felt fear and began to respect greatly the name of the Lord Jesus," (verses thirteen through seventeen).
15. Here are people who think they can independently use God's power in the name of the Lord Jesus. They have not even received Jesus as messiah. They don't believe the Lord nor will they enter the kingdom of God. They don't want to live under God's rule, but just tried to use the power of God in Jesus' name. They said, "By the name ofJesus which Paul was preaching we do command you." So we see here how therelationship of the Lord Jesus and Paul is markedly different from the relationshipof the Lord Jesus and them. So, in a crucial moment they turn against themselves. The seven sons of Sceva had a hard time. The Lord is not one to be made light of. God is absolutely central, and when we yield to his authority God rules over us with his blessings of grace. But, when we make ourselves master and try to use God's power, God never turns that into something good. That invites a person to judgment.
16. On the one hand those sorcerers were present, but on the other hand many people who entered into faith came and began to confess their evil deeds. This word translated as "evil deeds" is just the word "deeds" in the original text; I think based on the surrounding context that it was probably the black-magical deeds that they were involved in. The people who practiced sorcery threw away their books to be burned in front of everyone. According to what we saw before this it could have been put up for sale and converted to an enormous sum of money. Ungrudgingly and generously they threw it all away. Here we can see the complete defeat of the evil forces which attempt to pull persons apart from God. The people began to live with God as freed up persons, and they obtained eternal salvation. That was based on the power of the word of none other than God himself. So, Luke records it like this in verse twenty. "In this manner the word of the Lord spread more and more in influence and increased in power."
17. Lastly, let's read once more beginning with chapter six and verse ten of the letter to the Ephesian disciples. "The last thing I say is this. Rely on the Lord, be strong in his great power. In order to stand up in opposition to the schemes of the evil spirits, please dress yourself in the armor of God. Our battle does not have to do with flesh and blood, but it has to do with governments, authorities, the leaders of the the world of darkness, and various evil spirits in heaven. Therefore, in order to stand firmly, resist carefully the viceful and vicious day and accomplish every thing, please dress yourself in the armor of God. When standing, tighten your loins with truth as a belt, wear righteousness as a breastplate and make as footwear the preparations to tell others the gospel of peace. Even more than that, please take faith as a shield. With that you can extinguish each and every arrow of fire which the evil one shoots. Again, wear salvation as a helmet and take the sword of the Spirit, that is the word of God," (Ephesians 6:10-17). Believers should not misunderstand the battle. The war is not against humans, but it is a spiritual battle against wicked powers. This is at root God's battle. Therefore, we live by taking root in God's word and taking God's armor; moreover, we can have victory in this war by proclaiming to others the word of God.