Amulet: an ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease. A lucky charm or talisman.
Ancient Egyptian royals who had died went through an elaborate ceremony of mummification. The procedure took forty days for removing the moisture, usually using natron as a desiccant. Then the body was wrapped in linen, which could take another two weeks. Included among the linen wrappings were several amulets of gold. Among the most common were the heart scarab (to protect the heart), the “two finger” amulet places where the incision was made to remove the inner organs, the Isis knot (to give the deceased breath again), and the Wadjet eye (“eye of Horus”; for healing and protection). These amulets were intended to protect the deceased in the afterworld, but ultimately led to the desecration of their bodies. Because grave robbers (and Egyptologists of the 1800s AD) knew that these gold ornaments could be found in the wrappings, the mummies became targets of greed. Grave robbing was big business in Egypt even into the twentieth century. The purpose of the amulets actually backfired on the wearer.
Many societies use amulets to ward off sickness or danger. The Ghost Dancers of the Paiute and Lakota wore “bullet shirts” that would supposedly protect them against soldiers’ bullets. Several variations of Buddhist ritual use amulets. Jewish phylacteries were never intended to be charms, but Jewish mystics quickly adapted them to that purpose. Even among Christians we find the Saint Christopher medal, relics, wearing a cross, and forwarding certain e-mails or Facebook posts. Some Christians decry the use of these amulets, but would unwittingly replace them with their own amulet.
One popular song says, “When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus.” This expresses the belief of many Christians in Jesus as an amulet. If Jesus is the son of God (which he is), then surely his name possesses a certain power. Do you have to believe in Jesus? No, you just have to believe that using his name will bring you protection or healing. If you get in trouble, just say, “Help me, Lord Jesus.” You might need to have at least a little faith that he will do so, or maybe not.
Even in early church history we find that some people thought Jesus was merely an amulet. Paul experienced some of these people in Ephesus.
Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. (Acts 19:13)
Among these were seven sons of a high priest named Skeva (the left-handed). When they tried to expel a certain evil spirit in this way, the man with the spirit beat them up, saying “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Their attempt at using Jesus as an amulet backfired on them, much as the Egyptian amulets turned on their users.
The name of Jesus has power. Prayer has power. There is nothing wrong with trusting in that power. That trust, however, needs to be constant rather than intermittent. Otherwise Jesus becomes just an ornament.