13th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 15 – C)
Sermon Series on the Book of Acts
August 14, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
I might be wrong, but I believe that one of the weaknesses of sinful people is the desire for power. Cain murdered his brother by overpowering him. Dictators strive for unlimited power over their citizens. To wield power is simply to seek to control someone else, to force them to act in a way that you think they should. Sometimes this is good, think about the laws against murder and the like. But more times than not power is abused, such as when one person uses threats or force to control another. As Paul makes his way through Ephesus we see another kind of power at work. Not one of manipulation or control, but one that nevertheless changes people; it’s the power of Jesus’ name.
Ephesus was a prosperous center of commerce and political power and the dominant feature of the city was the temple of Artemis. One hundred and twenty-seven marble pillars inlaid with gold and precious jewels surrounded its exterior and made it one of the seven wonders of the world. Inside was the image of Artemis the goddess of fertility which the Ephesians saw as the symbol and the source of their prosperity. Ephesus and sorcery went hand-in-hand so magicians, astrologers and sorcerers offered their services, for a fee of course.
So when Paul arrived in Ephesus working miracles the people were amazed. Luke tells us that God even worked through handkerchiefs that touched Paul to heal the sick and diseased. The miracles that God did through Paul weren’t meant to impress the people, rather they were meant to show that Paul spoke the truth. People were healed and demons were expelled to show the power of Christ’s Name, for that’s what Paul was preaching, pure and simple. He was preaching the truth and power of the Savior.
As always though, there were some who missed the point. They saw the name of Jesus as just one more way to make money. They didn’t believe in the Jesus they were just using His name as a magical incantation. Luke writes that some exorcists tried this and it backfired. “Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims’. But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?’ And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.” The demons didn’t see Jesus at work because the exorcists didn’t have faith. Nobody can just control Jesus to get what they want.
Rather, what is found in Christ’s name is the power to repent. Luke tells us that everyone found out what happened and “fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.” The people saw that it isn’t the name itself that did the work, it was the God who bore the name. Paul was preaching that God and he was calling on his hearers to turn from their sin. He didn’t ignore the witchcraft that was going on around him, he didn’t turn a blind eye to the idolatry in Ephesus, he didn’t just wink at the sin he saw. Rather, he condemned it. He named the Ephesian’s sin and called on them to repent. The Word of Christ reveals sin and by its power it led many of the Ephesians to faith.
The power of Christ and His name works on us in the same way because we too are sinful. We have sinful practices and sinful attitudes. We have our own forms of idolatry and evil. We also try to our best at times to overpower Jesus. Think about it. Do you ever pray as if it is some sort of magic spell? If you say just the right thing, Jesus will answer your prayer? Do you speak His name to get Him to do what you want Him to do? Times have changed since Paul was in Ephesus, but time is all that has changed, because sin is still part of each and every one of us. For this reason, Christ calls us to turn from our sinful behavior and back to Him. And in His Word we find the power to do exactly this – to repent of all our sins.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes that Jesus was exalted by His Father and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Sickness and disease were healed, storms were stilled, and demons were expelled because everyone and everything must acknowledge Christ’s power. His power is absolute! On the cross of sacrifice, Jesus destroyed Sin and all its terrible consequences. As He bore His Father’s wrath, He overpowered Satan and Satan’s power over us. Three days later He destroyed the power of Death when He broke its bonds. All His enemies, all our enemies, are vanquished by His almighty power.
So when the Ephesians were overpowered by their need to repent, when we are overpowered and driven to repentance by Christ, we find the power of the forgiveness. Paul says in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. This is the power that Jesus loves to show! The forgiveness of all your sins. The removal of your guilty conscience. The cleansing of your sins and the sins done to you. It is in the power of Jesus alone that we find what we need. Nothing else has the power to overcome our sin and our troubles, only Christ. His name, put on you at your baptism, is the very power of God that is not only for you, but in you as well. He overpowers the evil and nastiness of our hearts and minds and brings forth new people empowered to live for Christ and to honorably bear His Name.
This is the last power of Christ that we see in the Ephesians. Luke writes, “Many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.” The magicians saw the power of Jesus as they repented and were forgiven and now that power changes them to move forward. As forgiven Christians, they sought to turn their back on every reminder of their past. Burning their books of magic spells in public demonstrated their dedication and faith, and this was not a token gesture. A piece of silver was a typical day’s wages, so fifty thousand silver pieces is today’s equivalent of about four million dollars. This was a serious expense and they were powered by Christ to no longer look back, but forward. It wasn’t anything they did by themselves. It wasn’t willpower or self-motivation. It was the power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit who brought this change about.
You too have been changed. Christ’s power that came upon you in your baptism overpowers your sinful self and drives you to fight against your sin. We are all sinners, but sin has no power over us. Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (I Peter 2:24).
Because we are righteous we strive to live as Christians in every way. It’s not going to be easy because the Devil dogs our every step and he does all he can to overpower us. But when we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we leave behind the sinful things that we enjoy, and don’t enjoy, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Paul puts it this way in I Corinthians, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Notice that? “And such were some of you”, but no longer! We are children of God, baptized in the name of Christ, empowered by Jesus to embrace the changes that He has worked, and will continue to work in us. Now, and every day of our lives.
It’s fascinating to me that when the all-powerful God took on human flesh He set aside His power. He could’ve come down like a bolt of lightning from Heaven, showing His power, and vanquishing His foes and those who hated Him. But He didn’t. He came in powerlessness. Or at least it seemed that way. For while He didn’t, at least for 33 years, show the full force of His power, He still showed some it. He showed it by graciously healing those who came to Him. He showed it by sending the demons back to hell. And He showed it most powerfully on Good Friday and on Easter Day. He shows His power even today as He leads us to repent of our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to live as His disciples. We praise Him because by overpowering Sin and Death for us, His power has completely changed us.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen