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“When Gods are Threatened”

Acts 19:23-41
Bob DeGray
May 22, 2005

Key Sentence

It’s wise to be aware of characteristic ways the enemy opposes us, and God protects us.


I. Follow the money to the god. (Acts 19:23-27)
II. Expect confusion. (Acts 19:28-34)
III. Pray for the voice of reason. (Acts 19:35-41)


        Bottles for babies. Last week we had a prayer focus on the work of the Crisis Pregnancy Centers in saving the lives of unborn children by helping pregnant women to make godly choices. This week we have baby bottles available for you to take home and collect coins for the CPC of Southeast Houston. The average baby bottle might painlessly provide them between $5 and $20, which is good. Since CPC’s are very frugal, these contributions go a long way. But I want you to think about the other side, about the abortion industry. An abortion can cost anywhere from $100 to $5000 for a late term abortion. One researcher contends the average cost for an abortion is $1000. Multiply that by the over one million abortions each year and you quickly realize the abortion industry is a billion dollar industry. Is there any wonder that a lot of money is spent to retain the right to kill babies? “Follow the money” someone once said if you want to find motivation for someone’s behavior.

        This morning we’re going to look at a well known episode in Paul’s ministry, the riot in Ephesus, Acts 19:23-41. It’s a fascinating story, and it teaches some contemporary truths, specifically, what to look for when as Christians we face opposition from the world. One of the things we’ll see in this passage is that it’s wise to follow the money, to see how opposition rises from the folks whose profits are threatened by Christian values. We’ll see how the opposition works to confuse the public with slogans and mindless arguments. And finally we’ll see how God sometimes steps in with the voice of reason. It’s a great passage, because it’s wise to be aware of characteristic ways the enemy opposes us, and God protects us.

I. Follow the money to the god. (Acts 19:23-27)

        We’ll begin with Acts 19:23-27, where we’ll learn to follow the money to the god. 23About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty."

Paul is in Ephesus, where he’s been preaching the Gospel and discipling believers for two years. Now, just as he’s getting set to move on, opposition to his ministry reaches a climax, with a resulting riot and disturbance. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the opposition, though religious in expression, has economic roots.

        It seems that a silversmith named Demetrius, whose specialty was silver shrines of the goddess Artemis began to worry about loss of business or potential loss of business due to Paul’s preaching. So he gathered many of his fellow craftsmen and others who profited from the cult of Artemis and incited them against Paul.

        The cult of Artemis was at the heart of both the culture and economy of Ephesus. Loosely identified with the Roman goddess Diana, Artemis was the Greek goddess of fertility, of the hunt and wild animals, as well as of chastity and childbirth. The silver plaques made in her honor by people like Demetrius show her as the hunter and victor over the beasts of the forests. The famous Ephesian statues of her emphasis her fertility and motherhood. According to her mythology she possesses authority and power superior to astrological fate. She was called Savior, Lord, and Heavenly Goddess. Each spring Ephesus hosted the festival Artemisa, a time of carnival and religious celebration at her temple, where worship focused on an image of Artemis which had fallen from heaven, no doubt a meteorite. The temple was a vast structure, four times the size of the Greek Parthenon, and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, incredible in size and beauty. The whole cult was a source of incredible wealth to the city, the sale of bronze, silver, marble and jewel encrusted images and amulets and plaques making Ephesus one of the economic centers of the whole Roman empire.

        So it’s easy to understand the economic threat posed by Paul’s message as it spread, not only in Ephesus but in all the surrounding region. Demetrius says to his fellow merchants: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia.” Here was the true issue: Demetrius feared great economic harm had been or would be done by the Gospel - and with it the loss of his own income, possessions and power. But Demetrius didn’t limit himself to the financial argument when he spoke to his peers. He tried to develop more respectable motives for their concern, namely the dangers that their trade would lose it’s good name, their temple it’s prestige and the goddess her divine majesty. His personal gain was cloaked in pious sounding phrases. But Artemis was not his god; affluence was what drove him.

        That’s why I say when Christianity or moral values are threatened you ought to ‘follow the money’. What you may hear on the surface is a moral argument using high sounding phrases, usually about rights, that resonate with the masses of people. But behind those high sounding phrases is usually someone, or a group of people, looking out for themselves, making themselves rich by opposing Christian values. For example, take pornography. The high sounding phrase pornographers hide behind is ‘freedom of speech’. You can’t shut us down: people have the right to make and watch any kind of film, no matter how immoral or degrading, because it’s an expression of free speech.

        The Supreme Court bought this argument in April of 2002 when it ruled that while actual images of children in pornography are illegal because of the harm it does to the children, virtual images, computer generated images do no such harm and are protected by free speech. Free speech is being used a protection for filth and as a cover up for not only for gross immorality, but for gross greed. A recent CBS News article estimated the porn industry at ten billion dollars a year, and pointed out that it’s not only the pornographic film studios in California making these profits, but also some of America’s largest corporations, like Time Warner and Comcast and DirectTV, which is owned by the Hughes Corporation.

        Then there are the big hotel chains: Hilton, Marriot, Hyatt, Sheraton and Holiday Inn, which all offer adult films on pay-per-view television. They are purchased by 50 percent of their guests. These companies don’t say how much they earn from porn, but CBS says “One of the things about pornography that's consistently true across the board is that because there's a social stigma still attached to it, you can charge a premium for it, and the profit margin is high. So it makes pure economic sense.” Follow the money. Porn, which has become the god for millions of addicted men, is driven like any other addiction by the huge profits it’s purveyors make.

II. Expect confusion. (Acts 19:28-34)

        When Christianity or Christian values are threatened, there is usually somebody making a profit. But they will never admit it directly. One of the consistent ploys used by those who oppose Christianity is to sow confusion. We see it in the middle section of this text, in the response of this gathered crowd. 28When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" 29Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. 30Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. 32The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. 34But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

The site of this incident has been excavated, and is one of the most impressive of ancient sites. The temples of various gods and Roman emperors have been uncovered, along with several of the main streets of the ancient city, and a theater or public assembly place which could seat 25,000 people. Apparently the theater was quite full due to the rabble rousing of Demetrius. The crowd couldn’t seem to find Paul, but they dragged into the theater two of his associates, Gaius and Aristarchus, who had come with Paul from Macedonia. We later learn that Aristarchus at least was a native of Thessalonica, which Paul had visited on his 2nd missionary journey.

        According to Stott, Paul may have been overconfident of the safety his Roman citizenship gave him. He wanted to go in and address this huge crowd - and I’m sure he wanted to preach Christ to them. But cooler heads prevailed; recognizing that things were very nearly out of control, several of the local officials persuaded Paul not to go in. By now confusion reigned in the theater. I’ve often, jokingly, called verse 32 my life verse: “Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” Why do I like this verse? Because it describes so many situations, whether it’s a four year old Sunday School class or a protest in front of Halliburton’s offices. Most of the mobs in history have consisted of some people shouting things and other people mindlessly following along.

        And as these verses in Acts make clear, most mobs are motivated by slogans. Theirs was ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” The French Revolution’s: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”; The Russian Revolution: “Peace, Land and Bread.” The 60's gave us Timothy Leary’s “Tune in, turn on and drop out” and “Give Peace a Chance”. Even commercials have contributed such cultural icons as “Be all you can be” and “You’re number one". I remember a report back when the first Survivor was on. To live on the island they had to kill and eat rats, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested, shouting the most mindless slogan I’ve ever heard “Rats have rights. Rats have rights.” Wait a second! Precisely what rights do rats have? Do they have the right to vote? The right to bear arms? The right to remain silent? Slogans get people excited, caught up in a movement and a feeling, but without actual thought. Hitler made the German people into an iron fist by telling them they were ‘ein volk, ein reich, ein fuhrer’; one people, one nation, one leader’ - and we all know the catastrophe that came from their mindless support.

        So the idea is that if you shout the slogans loud enough, you can lead the mob to oppose Christianity and it’s values. In the last few years one of the loudest sets of voices has been the group advocating same-sex marriages for homosexuals and lesbians. I’d call them ‘gay’ marriages, but you have to remember that the word ‘gay’ itself is an attempt to put a positive emotional spin on sinful behavior. And since most Americans oppose legalized marriages in support of this behavior, homosexual advocates have taken the usual route of confusion, creating slogans both to demean the Christian position and to promote their position in terms of rights. So the classic protest signs say “Focus on your own family” and “Gay Rights Are Civil Rights!”. Even the Massachusetts Supreme Court has bought into this argument, saying that “The right to marry means little if it does not mean the right to marry the person of one’s choice.” All of which ignores the fact that in every culture on every continent, in every age of the world, marriage has meant one man and one woman. Biblically you can’t define the word marriage without recognizing as part of its purpose the righteous expression of sexuality and the creation of new life, both of which require male-female union. Same sex marriage is a contradiction in terms, it’s like saying “imaginary news” or “elevated subway”.

        Therefore, as Chuck Colson points out, the hidden agenda of those promoting same-sex marriage is really the destruction of marriage - for if anything is marriage, nothing is marriage anymore. If any number of people, any number of genders, any number of ages can be included: if even marriage to self or inanimate objects is considered, then the word marriage is meaningless, which would suit the proponents of that agenda just fine since they don’t want the strictures of any morality.

        So this Ephesian riot had the classic components of slogans and confusion. This was especially evident when some of the Jewish people present tried to get one of their representatives to speak, probably to distance the Jews from Paul and his followers. This assembly was so hyped up they wouldn’t listen. They knew, of course, that a Jewish person could not affirm their goddess, so they shouted him down and continued shouting the slogan for two hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”

III. Pray for the voice of reason. (Acts 19:35-41)

        Who knows what else might have happened if God had not provided a voice of reason to settle the chaos. Verses 33 to 41 35The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. 37You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it." 41After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

God often does this. Even in a situation where there is strong opposition God will at times provide a key person to diffuse the situation. In the Gospel of John, Nicodemus was that voice of reason to the Sanhedrin. He may not have influenced their final decision, but he appears to have delayed it. In Acts the Pharisee named Gamaliel spoke up to dissuade the Sanhedrin from killing Peter and John. He said “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

        The voice of reason. In the previous chapter Gallio the proconsul had diffused Paul’s opponents in Corinth, and refused to hear their charges. And here it is the city clerk who not only provides the voice of reason, but seems to be very skilled in crowd control. He makes four points. First, the whole world knows that Ephesus is the guardian of Artemis’s temple and image. Since this is undeniable, no one is going to deny it, and the cult of Artemis is in no danger.

        Secondly, ‘these men’, Gaius and Aristarchus, are guilty of neither sacrilege, robbing the temple, nor blasphemy, reviling the goddess. They are innocent. Thirdly, Dimetrius and his colleagues are familiar with legal proceedings. If they have a private grievance, they should bring their case to the courts. If, on the other hand, their case is more serious and more public they should refer it to a legal assembly, the regular official meeting of the City Council. As usual, Luke is very well-informed about the finer points of city politics in Asia in the first century. Fourthly, the citizens of Ephesus are themselves in danger of being charged with civil disorder: if this were to happen, they would not be able to justify themselves. Having said all this, the town clerk was able to dismiss the crowd. So far as we can tell, no further steps were taken, publicly or privately, against Paul and his colleagues.

        Do you see the hand of God at work in this? It must have been God who put this city manager in place, and who gave him the skills, talent, and experience needed to bring this crowd under control. And, as we’ve already seen, this is by no means the only time God has done that. So maybe what we ought to take away from this brief text is a prayer that God would provide a voice of reason. I think he’s done so in the past in our country, and I think he continues to do so today, at times, but I’m afraid our current culture is not very conducive to listening to those voices of reason, or even to having those voices of reason in place when threats come.

        In particular I will confess to being very disturbed by the ongoing trend toward judicial activism. This is one of the terms used to describe the actions of judges who go beyond their constitutionally prescribed duties of applying law to the facts of individual cases, and "legislate" from the bench. These judges create new constitutional rights or amend existing ones; they create or dismiss legislation to fit their own notions of societal needs. This is dangerous because it nullifies the powers of the state and federal legislatures and leaves every moral or faith issue in the hands of an elitist minority. The overwhelming number of federal and higher state court judges have an extremely liberal world view, and in many cases an extremely liberal agenda. Recent rulings that illustrate this include the infamous Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling striking down the legislature’s attempt to restrict same sex marriages, or the ruling last week by Nebraska federal district court judge Joseph Battalion striking down the Nebraska marriage amendment, which had been passed by 70 percent of Nebraska voters in November 2004.

        In the last decades the U. S. Supreme Court has legislated against morality using a ‘right to privacy’ never found in the constitution, and has legalized abortion, homosexual behavior, and most kinds of pornography. They have at the same time consistently misinterpreted the 1st amendment to create an unconstitutional wall of separation between society and religion, banning prayer in school, and most public assemblies, and the celebration of the ten commandments or the nativity in most public places.

        This judicial tyranny is a threat to Christianity and moral values. The courts themselves have walked away from the rule of law, from what the constitution and the legislatures say, and have committed themselves to making rules based on their own agendas and even on what courts in other countries are doing. Is there any hope? Well, yeah. There has been a lot of praying going on, and there is the occasional voice of reason. The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld that state’s marriage amendment, as did the Oregon Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court said that it was still OK to pray at a presidential inauguration. Chuck Colson has recently said that the replacement of two retiring liberal judges on the Supreme Court with those who believe in an ‘original intent’ vision of the Constitution would make a huge difference in that body’s rulings.

        So we ought to pray for the voice of reason to prevail. In all these issues; abortion, pornography, homosexual marriage, and many others, we can see how a liberal agenda and an economic agenda, carried out through slogans and confusion and supported by judicial voices of un-reason has created a significant threat to moral values and even to the practice of Christianity. We need to pray. “God, raise up voices of reason in our society, beyond the confines of the church, to bring some order out of this chaos, just as you did in Ephesus.”