19:11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 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.
There's a reason why this account seems so foreign and surreal to us and the reason is given right in the story itself. Ephesus was a city filled with demonic activity. We live in a culture almost devoid of the supernatural in overt sense. The false god of our culture is humanism. For Satan to be active here would destroy the far more effective delusion he has going that there is no reality beyond our own.
In Ephesus it was very different. No one there was an atheist. They were well aware of the spiritual world. They had sorcerers and exorcists. They had temples and idols of all kinds. Ephesus was no small place. Archaeologists estimate it was the 4th largest city of its day behind only Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch with a population of over 250000. I was both a port city and the crossroads of three major land routes. It is important to know this to dispel the notion it was some backwater place full of superstitious crazy people; far from it.
As humans we struggle to see the world through the eyes of another culture. We dismiss different as inferior and fear what we don't understand.
All this to help us understand why God did such strange things in Ephesus. You will note that even Luke (a physician) in recounting to us these events fully admits they were weird. Weird because God meets us where we are. The people in Ephesus were not doubting there was a God. They were only confused about how many there were and which one if there were many was the most important. With such an affluent city peddling so many different gods and theories about the gods it was like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack to find truth.
Into this myriad of competing religious theories comes Paul. Why should anyone listen to him? Why should his 'brand' take precedent over any other? How would he ever cut through all the religious "noise" and make Jesus known? He couldn't. Even being Spirit filled was not enough. No man was any match for the task at hand. This being the case God stepped in. He spoke the "language" of the locals to gran their attention and once he had it, he turned their world upside down. Handkerchiefs healing people? Sounds like late night television evangelist hocus pocus but when you're talking to people immersed in hocus pocus you have to meet them where they are.
When the local sorcerers, exorcists, and spiritualists tried to mimic what Paul was doing by invoking the name of Jesus, the demons spoke directly to them. "Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are you?"
Even the demons confessed the truth before turning on these false religionists. Did you know that when this world ends and eternity is set to begin even the demons and the devil himself will bow and confess that God has been telling the truth all along?
God used unusual means to reach the people of Ephesus because he loved them and they needed it. We don't "get it" just like we probably wouldn't get it of the couple next to us on an airplane was speaking mandarin.
Here's what we can take away from this account. God loves us in our religious confusion, or our atheism, or anywhere else we happen to be. He'll come for us. He'll speak in a way that we do understand. He will meet us even 'a long way off'. That's just the God He is. So if He is doing some weird stuff in someone else's life and you don't get it, don't worry about it. He is speaking their language, not yours.