Are You Known in Hell?
I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you? (Acts 19:15)
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was truly remarkable. I love reading about it in Acts 19. It always inspires me with what God can do through men filled with the Spirit who consecrate themselves to Christ, willing to live for him and die for him. Ephesus was notorious for pagan worship. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world was there, the Temple of Diana, and people came from far and wide to engage in pagan ritual. The city was large, having a population of around 330,000, and its sports stadium, built by Nero, could seat twenty-five thousand. We know, from both secular history and the biblical account in Acts 19, that Ephesus was overrun with demonic possession. Her sorcerers, as Shakespeare wrote were ‘dark-working sorcerers that change the mind, soul-killing witches that deform the body.’1 In fact pagan and Jewish exorcists regularly plied their trade, seeking to deliver people from the terror of demons. Exorcists had developed a book of incantations they chanted when exorcizing demons, known in antiquity as the Ephesian writings. When the Holy Spirit began to convert large numbers of the people, some who were engaged in black magic, brought their books and burned them publicly. Luke tells us that the books were worth fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:19). Today that would mean $25 million.2 Talk about a mighty societal impact!
Luke also tells us that Paul’s ministry was so powerful, accompanied by extraordinary miracles, that handkerchiefs and aprons were taken from Paul’s body and carried to the sick. Diseases and demons left the people. Apparently some of the Jewish exorcists were watching Paul and mimicked his words as he cast out demons. They thought they could do the same thing and said to the demons, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches’ (Acts 19:12-13). Then Luke reports that a Jewish chief priest (probably an apostate Jewish priest) named Sceva had seven sons who sought to cast out demons, invoking the name of Jesus and Paul. The chief demon spoke derisively to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ The man in whom the evil spirits resided jumped on the sons of Sceva, subduing and overpowering them, driving them from the house, both naked and wounded (Acts 19:15-16).
It is clear that Jesus and Paul are known in hell. The sons of Sceva were not. Are you known in hell?3 In other words – are you a threat to the devil’s status quo? Is Satan concerned about your prayers that move the Spirit to action, your holiness that upgrades your family and church community, your evangelistic work that depopulates hell, your preaching or teaching that humbles and debases men while exalting and praising Jesus?
Elijah is known in hell. He was a troubler in Israel to the hardhearted and worldly Jews who refused to repent and return to Yahweh. He was a troubler to Baal worshippers who persisted in leading Israel away into idolatry and sexual immorality. He was a troubler to Ahab and Jezebel who refused to repent and met horrible deaths. Elisha is known in hell. The young boys, driven by wickedness, mocked him, and were eaten by bears, exposing Satan’s scheme to mock the messengers of God. The demons which sought to keep Naaman in the darkness of leprosy could not stand against him.
Jeremiah is known in hell. He constantly warned Judah to repent, and their hatred against him cost him freedom and brought untold sorrow. He did not quit preaching, even though Satan had blinded the eyes of the unbelieving.
Daniel is known in hell. He refused to keep the status quo when realizing the utter depravity of the exiles and poured out his heart in confession, contrition, and supplication for another mighty movement of God.
Isaiah is known in hell. His vision of the thrice holy God humbled him to the dust, moving him to say, ‘Here I am. Send me.’
Ezekiel is known in hell. He warns Judah of impending doom, calling them to repentance, declaring to them that their failure to speak out means the blood of the damned is on their hands. He would not relent in the face of Satanic deception.
Habakkuk is known in hell. His perplexity over Nebuchadnezzar’s impending invasion of Judah, while devastating to him, nonetheless moved him to praise the Lord no matter what may happen. No self-pity there!
And Zechariah is known in hell. He constantly prophesied of a better day for Israel, working against Satan’s chief tools of discouragement and accusation.
They all preached fearlessly, calling the people to repentance, suffering the rejection, ridicule, and degradation thrown at them by the prince of darkness.
Are you known in hell? Is Satan upset with you? Does he have his target painted on your mind, heart, and will? Is hell being adversely affected by your life and ministry? These are the questions that ought to be periodically addressed by each of us, but especially by those of us who earn our living by preaching.
What characterizes those known in hell? First, they know they are called by God to preach the gospel (Acts 26:16-20, Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 9:16, 2 Tim. 4:1ff). Consequently a mantle of power and authority rests on them. They speak and live with a godly swagger, proclaiming the Word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31, Eph. 6:19-20). They are willing to be fools for Jesus sake. They do not count their lives as belonging to themselves. They spend and are spent for the sake of the gospel. They know they are to labour to the very end of their days, giving all they have – body, mind, spirit, money, time, and energy. They are successful in their preaching and evangelistic ministry. That is, they see converts and people follow their lead (Phil. 3:17). When they leave this world there are more Christians than when they came in, and it is because of their gospel labours. They speak the truth in love. They don’t water down application when preaching. They make soul-searching, man-debasing, hope-building application, moving people to Christ for salvation and sanctification. Their ministries begin to erode and undermine the societal depravity that characterizes every community on earth. On the university campus, the gospel of Jesus becomes a point of discussion. The ethics of Jesus are taken seriously and people begin to jettison ungodliness. They inspire people to imitate Jesus, if not fully to live for him. Their ministries experience serious opposition and attack from the world, and often from the church. They weep for the lost. They grieve over their own sin. They are humble, contrite, and tremble at God’s Word. They always are rejoicing, all the time, in every circumstance. They never give up. They live with heaven in full view. Their lives are rich with joy inexpressible and full of glory.
Are you known in hell? Seek God earnestly until the devil knows and fears you. Nothing else matters.
- See Comedy of Errors (Act I, Scene ii), a quote from Syracusan Antipholus.
- Acts: An Expositional Commentary, James Boice, page 326.
- I got the idea for this message from Leonard Ravenhill’s classic Why Revival Tarries.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
Contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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