If you are a fan of westerns, you will probably agree that “The Magnificent Seven” is a pretty great movie.
In this movie, made in 1960, a poor village hires seven gunfighters to help defend them from a group of bandits who continue to loot and oppress them. Although the gunfighters sustain losses, they are successful in liberating the village from their oppressors.
It is an exciting, thrilling, and even heartwarming movie about courage, sacrifice, and standing up for something that you believe in.
And it stars a bald man, which is cool.
In the Bible, there is an account of seven brothers who traveled from place to place making their money in a very similar way: they claimed to be “exorcists,” which means that they claimed to be able to liberate people from the demons and evil spirits that tormented them.
These brothers also had a respected upbringing and a significant religious pedigree, being sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva.
Sounds cool, right? In fact, it sounds like it might make a really good movie so far.
Unlike Jesus and His disciples, however, these seven brothers had no actual power to do what they were claiming to be able to do. In point of fact, they were more like modern-day con men, preying on the vulnerability and gullibility of weak-minded people. They were using their pedigree, their influence, and their solidarity for selfish reasons. One commentator says about them, “They strolled about to tell people their fortunes, and pretended by spells and charms to cure diseases, and bring people to themselves that were melancholy or distracted” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary).
In other words, they were fakes. Posers. They were cheap imitations of the real thing.
According to Acts 19:13, they “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’.” So, whatever they’ve been doing up to this point, they have decided to “update their act” by calling upon the names of two people who are (rightfully) associated with success in this line of work: Jesus and Paul.
So, to set up what happens next: they knew what to SAY to the evil spirits, but they didn’t actually have the kind of connection to Jesus OR Paul that would ALLOW them to do this successfully.
What happens next is scary, brutal, and shocking (and kinda funny).
The Bible says, “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 effect that this had on the residents of Ephesus was twofold: “And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled” (vs. 17).
So, what really happened here, and what can we learn from it?
These men fell victim to some fairly common mistakes: they thought that their association with “religion” could protect them from actual evil. They also thought that their religious background/heritage existed for THEIR purposes, and that they could use it as they saw fit.
They were wrong on both accounts. And it was a painful, costly, humiliating lesson to learn.
What about us? Are we under the false impression that our religious association can protect us from our enemy, much less from the righteous judgment of God? Have we deceived ourselves into thinking that our association with God exists to serve US instead of serving HIM? Are we fakes? Posers? Are we nothing more than cheap imitations of the real thing?
The Bible says In Matthew 7:22-23 that, on the Day of Judgment, “many will say…’Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’.”
In other words, these are the posers who thought that their association with religion would be enough; and it wasn’t. Honestly, their fate is even worse than that of the seven sons of Sceva. At least THEY would have a chance to repent.
The lessons are obvious: it is simply not enough to know ABOUT God. It is also not enough to do things FOR God. God wants to KNOW you, and to be known BY you. Anything else is going to fall very short.
So ask yourself, which group are you in? Are you one of the “Magnificent Seven” who will courageously sacrifice for what/who you believe in; or are you one of the “Not-So-Magnificent Seven” who is simply trying to use your association with God for your own benefit?
The choice is yours.