This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. (Acts 19:17-20)
A Book Burning
Paul’s work in Ephesus was filled with great demonstrations of the power of God both through teaching and unusual miracles. He taught daily in the school of Tyrannus. The miracles were so powerful that if handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from him the people would be healed. On one occasion some itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to try and mimic what had been done through the Holy Spirit but with disastrous results. They fled out of the house naked and wounded. All the Jews and Greeks in Ephesus heard of this and great fear came upon the people. As a result many obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One particular group that saw the power of God and turned to the gospel was those who practiced the magic arts. These were not entertainers like David Copperfield but men who dabbled in the occult arts of magic like spiritualism, astrology and divination. Having seen the true power of God they turned from their deceitful practices to the one true God. As a show of their conviction they brought their books of magic and burned them in the sight of all. They were not merely turning to the Lord; they were excising their lives of those things that stood against the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Luke points out the value of these rare books totaled 50,000 pieces of silver which was an incredible amount of money. They demonstrated the wonder working power of the love of God as it changes men into servants of God.
Not everyone had to burn expensive books when they became a Christian. What is found in the example of these men is the attitude that everyone must have in obedience to the gospel. Anything that stands in the way of what God requires has to be removed. Jesus implored His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him. The cost was huge. In some cases a greater price had to be paid. The rich young ruler that came to Jesus was told to give all his riches to the poor but he refused. Peter said the apostles had left all to follow Jesus. The attitude of heart for obedience demands a full surrender to the cause of Christ.
There are those today who must leave good paying jobs to be a child of God. Some have to give up marital relationships, friendships, or religious affiliations to be obedient to the will of the Father. For some the cost is great. What is wonderful about the magicians in our story is they were willing to burn rare and expensive books to show their faith in Jesus Christ. This was total dedication. Taking up the cross of Jesus is a painful experience. Unless we are willing to give up everything to follow the Lord we cannot follow Him. Heaven cost the Father the life of His Son. Can we expect the cost to be less for us? Do not let anything – no matter how precious it may be – hinder obedience to the gospel call of Jesus Christ.
The marks of the cross are simply the marks of our identification with our Lord, death to our own plans and purposes, death to our own right to our lives, that He might have His way with us and ours. (Vance Havner; 1901-1986)