Thursday, August 09, 2012

Acts 19: Magic and the name of Jesus

In Ephesus, Paul finds a small group of disciples who apparently heard the gospel in a very indirect and incomplete way, yet believed what they had heard. Paul finds that they have only heard and entered into John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. After explaining the full gospel, they are baptized "in the name of Jesus", and immediately begin speaking in tongues as a manifestation of their receipt of the Holy Spirit. This, I think everyone will agree, is rather miraculous.

Later we see Paul teaching for an extended period in Ephesus, and teaching carefully and accurately about Jesus, as we noted yesterday. In this context of careful teaching and preaching of Jesus, Paul also performs many miracles. This catches the attention of "spiritual practitioners' (exorcists) who try to cast out demons in Jesus' name, but cannot. In another place, a magician named Simon is impressed with Paul's apparent ability to "cause" the Holy Spirit to fall upon his hearers, and offers to buy this power, earning a strong rebuke from Paul.

These incidents seem to offer some insight into the meaning of doing anything "in the name of Jesus." Jesus taught that if we ask anything "in his name", the Father will grant it. This sounds almost like magic. However the episodes in Acts show that it is not merely a matter of saying, "In Jesus' name", but rather of being in a real, actual and personal relationship with Jesus. The miracles performed by Paul were incidental, not central, to his ministry of serving others by bringing them into a relationship with Jesus. The miracles occurred because he had a relationship with Jesus, knew Jesus, and shared His heart and desires. Simon and the exorcists had no such relationship, and their attempt to use Jesus' name in a formulaic way, like an incantation, was abortive.

We are asking "in the name of Jesus" only when we have a relationship with him and are in a position in which we represent His desires when we pray. If we are simply stating our own desires, without reference to that relationship, and add the words, "In Jesus name", we are using His name in a magical way, and can expect no particular answer, except possibly discipline.

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