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Friday, April 1, 2016

There is Power in the Name of Jesus


We continue our journey through the Acts of the Apostles, which by now you've realised is really the acts of 2 apostles, Peter and Paul, and, from ch 9 to 28 deals only with Paul. So, one wouldn't be far off the mark by saying that Acts is about the ministry of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is of course, a Divinely inspired history of the early missionary church as it spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, as Jesus had prophesied (Acts 1:8). Although Acts was written by a gospel writer, Luke, it records the time in the church before any of the gospels were written. Acts ends just before the death of Paul in the early 60's of the first century, and Mark's gospel (the earliest to be written) was written in the late 60's or more likely, the early 70's. The evangelisation of Asia and Europe takes place … without a written New Testament ... pity the Gideons weren't around back then, they would have made a plan :-) But, seriously, imagine evangelising a city or a country, without a New Testament. How would we do that? ... Would we even know how to begin? ... What would you rely on? (remember, don't answer aloud) ... the answer: The power of God, manifested in you, by a changed and changing life ... and through you, as God uses you as a channel of His power, His mercy, His grace, …  into the lives of others, perhaps using you as a channel of healing as you lay hands on someone; or to drive out a spirit of pride, or anger, or envy, or lust, or laziness, or gluttony or greed that we know still dwell in so many of us as we put on Christ and put off the old self; the power of God manifested in and through you, perhaps through a prophetic word or vision, the interpretation of a tongue or vision or dream; the power of God manifested in and through you as you exercise the gift of service to others; and so on. These were the primary tools of the missionary church recorded in Acts ... and in fact for the next 1500 years of the church's history until the development of the printing press and the translation of the Scriptures into languages that people actually spoke and understood. The power of God manifested in and through born-again and Spirit filled and empowered Christians ... that’s what Acts records … and that is what makes Acts so important today as we minister in a world which, although it has many Bibles, is a world which doesn’t believe the Bible. That type of world needs changed and changing lives to minister to it, and not just a “the Bible says” type of mission.

So we pick up where we left off last time, after Paul had taught the importance of water and Spirit baptism: 
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to those who were ill, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

This sounds like magic, but it’s not magic, but faith ...
faith like that of the woman with the bleeding problem who reached out believing that if only she could touch the hem of Jesus' garment she would be saved from her disease, saved from her life of exclusion, saved from the poverty that her disease had caused as she spent all she had on doctors, ... if only I could touch the hem of His garment. Faith, not magic.  

We reach out to so many wrong things don't we? We reach out to drink, to drugs, to sex, to the approval of others, to various bad habits ... we reach out to so many things to save us from our problems, our boredom, our feelings of insecurity ... we look for the magic fix ... but hear this: Nothing fixes deep down at the root of our problems, nothing fixes, nothing saves, other than faith in Jesus Christ.

There are two things which come up in our reading which we often don't realise or believe need fixing in our lives, things we need saving from. Listen for the first in the next part of our reading: 

 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 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. 

Evil spirits: and before you say "Oh come on Cedric", or "We don't have those in England", let me ask you this: Have you ever looked at another Christian and thought to yourself, "He is filled with such a spirit of pride" ... or "He would be so much healthier if he rid himself of that spirit of laziness" or "There's such a spirit of heaviness in that person or place". I've heard some of you use this very language ….. Now, whether or not you believe in evil spirits, Jesus did. Sometimes Jesus heals someone of a disease, sometimes he heals them of an evil spirit or spirits. Do you believe Jesus knew the difference? Be careful how you answer that one. Some will say "Well, you know, at the time of Jesus people blamed spirits for things that today we know have nothing to do with spirits." Really!!! You don't think Jesus knew the difference? You don't think the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writers, knew the difference? You don't think there's truth in the words of Jesus recorded faithfully for us? Jesus believed in the reality of evil spirits and the spiritual realm.

 Do these words (from Ephesians)sound familiar (and I really hope they do) and if so, what do they mean?

 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

I believe those words mean what they say and I believe that many of us struggle unnecessarily in our spiritual lives because we ignore the reality of evil spirits in our midst. Jesus didn't, Paul didn't and I don't think we should. But remember some truths of Good Friday, recorded for us in Colossians and James:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
and
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 

We have absolutely no reason to fear these things we must believe in, but we must heed the advice of Peter
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.


And when we sin, he devours us, sucking the life out of us that Jesus is pouring into us; and when we give him a home by letting bad habits take up residence in us, then we need to be delivered from the spirits that accompany many of those habits. (There is no time to take this further, but suffice it to say that if by now there were someone here who needed exorcising of a spirit that possesses them, we would know it; I am not talking about demon possession that needs exorcising, but about the spirits that we have allowed to feel at home in us and that we need to be delivered from ... deliverance, not exorcism.)

I said earlier there are two things which come up in our reading which we often don't realise or believe need fixing in our lives, things we need saving from. We've looked at the first; listen for the second in the next part of our reading:

When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour. Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.


Notice that Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practised sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. It would seem that although they had come to belief, there were many that had not made a clean break with the past and they now come and openly confess. Public confession of sin.

There's an expression that goes: don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Is there a possibility that when we Protestants threw out the Roman Catholic confessional box, we did just this? What do we make of the Scripture in James:

Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.


Now, there's a whole context and sermon in that verse which there just isn't time for ... I would just say this: If there is an area of ongoing struggle in your life, find someone you trust, confess to them and ask them to pray for you and to hold you accountable, and watch how you grow in grace, love and holiness.

The Ephesians openly confessed ... and there lives changed dramatically as they destroyed by fire things of immense value ... they could have sold them and given the money to the poor, but no ... here was an evil in their midst that had to be destroyed and this in itself became a witness to changed lives; and you might remember that at the start I said it was the witness of changed lives (in the absence of New Testament Bibles) brought about by the power of God manifested in them and through them that changed the world through the preaching of the gospel leading to that change.


And I suggest that is what the world needs today. Not people who say: the Bible says; but rather people whose lives live what the Bible says and thus leave people saying: I want what he, what she, has…. Then, tell them about Jesus.

 There is power in the name of Jesus for just such a life.
Where do you need to change so that you and therefore the world, will be a better place? Is it time to cast something off or out in the power and the name of Jesus, so that you can live a more Christ like life? You know what needs to leave you right now, as we sing the words that follow, let’s pray the words we sing, and ask Jesus, by His Spirit, to cleanse us, drive from us, that which stands in the way of His kingdom coming in us and His will being done by us.

Let us pray for that Jesus and that power to manifest in us now.

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