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Grown-Up Bible Stories

In Over Their Heads

We don't know much about the seven men who plied the creepy trade of exorcism. We know they were brothers. Their dad's name was Sceva. They traveled the ancient world, driving—or at least attempting to drive--evil spirits from the possessed. As Jews, their own religious background avoided the mysterious spirits that hung out around pagan temples. In addition to their own safe worship, they had learned traditional methods that seemed to help drive off unwanted spirits. Thus equipped, they became a resource of last resort for those whose lives had turned terrible.

Many people today see demon possession and exorcism as fantasies. The scientific atheism prevalent in the West leaves many people skeptical of spiritual experience. Such doubts are reinforced by the fact that the monotheistic religions common in these areas tend to limit opportunities for people to interact with strange spirits. The picture changes upon leaving monotheistic and irreligious societies. As spirits are worshiped and idols erected to house them, people again find themselves experiencing inexplicable illnesses, mental torment, and unseen powers that are at once overwhelming and horrifying. The spirit world is far more real than inexperienced doubters would ever dream. It is real, and in many cases, the reality results in fear and oppression. Like those facing such things today, Sceva's sons could have told stories that would leave us sleeping with the lights on and feeling cold chills every time the house creaked.

Ancient people worshiped idols. While it is true that gods made of stone or metal are helpless, the ancients believed their idols represented spirit beings--gods they called them. While these spirits didn't qualify as gods in Judeo-Christian terms, folklore and spirituality saw them as potential sources of help. Religious ritual often involved offering animal sacrifices to the gods. Eating the meat of a sacrificed animal was seen as a means of joining one's spirit with a god. Worshipers likely expected to receive power and blessings from such unity. The blessings often wore thin. Countless worshipers learned too late that the power was ruinous. The spirits entering idol worshipers were far from God-like. They caused waking nightmares of mental and even physical torment. Individuals thus united with a spirit being were ruined unless an exorcist could set them free. It was this promise of release that kept itinerant exorcists financially solvent.

The Sceva boys eventually found themselves in Ephesus, a city on the east shore of the Aegean Sea. Religion loomed large in Ephesus. It was a center of worship for the goddess Diana, or Artemis to the Greeks. The Ephesians worshiped Diana at an impressive temple. Producing images of her kept a large group of craftsmen busy. With such a concentration of risky worship, Ephesus would have offered great prospects for an exorcist.

While exorcism doubtlessly provided at least temporary relief, it wasn't a certain science. Evil spirits are not easily controlled. We might question the wisdom of men who tried to earn their living by hand-to-hand combat with hell. Be that as it may, we can't doubt their courage.

Someone else walked into town while the Scevas were battling spiritual forces bigger than they were. Saul was a little man with health problems. He was a Jewish rabbi turned Christian evangelist. He had never worshiped any God but the God of Israel. Even now that he believed God had manifested Himself in Jesus Christ, he still worshiped in synagogues and followed strict Jewish traditions. Saul—or Paul in the Greek-speaking world--was an intense individual. Prior to his dramatic conversion, he had been involved in an attempt to stop the early Christian church by governmental force. As a Christian, he traveled dangerous roads and seaways. Upon his arrival in a city, he talked openly to the Jews about the unpopular Jesus. Most of the Jewish community typically rejected Paul and his teaching. Then, he began telling the pagans about the invisible God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

Paul was an effective, if less-than-eloquent, speaker. He also displayed the power of God by praying in the name of Jesus Christ. Paul could heal sick people with a simple prayer. When confronted with an evil spirit, Paul didn't chant, wave crystals, or make sacrifices. He'd pray to God and then say, “Jesus Christ says you have to leave.” [Quotations aren't necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.] The evil spirit would obey. The formerly tortured and insane person was instantly normal and healthy. No other religion produced spiritual experts that could get such results.

When Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Scevas listened. When he told evil spirits to leave for good, the professional spirit handlers paid attention. Team Sceva recognized a power greater than their own and decided to try Paul's technique.

We know very little about the man upon which the professional exorcists tried the new method. There was only one of him and seven of them. We don't know why the Sceva family chose to try something new on this particular person. Was it just the right time for an experiment? Was the evil spirit refusing to respond to their demands? For whatever reason, they said, “We command you by Jesus that Paul preaches! Get out of him!”

From deep within the tormented man, the voice of evil answered. “I know Jesus and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then, the man attacked his would-be rescuers. He was driven my superhuman strength, and they didn't have a chance.

The Sceva brothers ran from the house naked and bleeding. They had made a career of dealing with powers bigger than they were. Unfortunately, when they tried to use the greatest power of all, the power of God through Jesus Christ, they did so without having the relationship that would give them that power. They were in over their heads dealing with mere demons. They were still in over their heads when they tried to bring Jesus into the mix without having actually experienced Him. They saw a technique, when what really mattered was a relationship. In too deep on every front, they lost.


The God worshiped by Jews and Christians is the only Spirit worthy of the name God. His power is unlimited. Those who have come to Him on His terms have found Him loving, forgiving, and able to help in every area of life. His involvement with those who find him is such that we speak of having a relationship with Him. While most of us don't have the kind of miraculous gifts Paul did, God's power is still a source of spiritual strength and more.

But God only gives power to those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. God's power is unavailable to those who haven't entered into this faith-based relationship with Him. The atheist who will not believe must remain an atheist because he cannot see God's power. The spiritually tortured person who will not come to God through Jesus Christ must remain in bondage. The addicted and self-destructive ones who do not find God's grace must destroy themselves even within a place of worship. God's power is real, but without the help of the one Mediator God has appointed to bring us into relationship with Himself, that power must remain elusive.

Do you have God's power in your life today? Are you willing to come to Him on His terms to get it?

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. (Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:19-20)

To learn more about entering a relationship with God by Jesus Christ click here: How to Have a Relationship with God.

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


How to Have a Relationship with God

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