About thirty years after Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul was revisiting some of the early congregations. As told in chapter 19 of the Book of Acts, he came to Ephesus: And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8). Following various dispersions, the Jews had spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Ephesus was a great center of commerce and industry and was home to many of those who had been dispersed. Unbelief and the Pharisaic cultural roots of the Jews challenged Paul’s message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, so he moved his teaching ministry out of the synagogue (Acts 19:8–10). Similarly, the hardheaded unbelief of many people of the 21st century exhibits their disdain and open hatred for the message of Christ.
Paul’s message challenged the idolatrous worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, also known as the Roman goddess Diana. Demetrius was a successful industrialist, manufacturing the silver shrines of Artemis. He gathered together the fellow craftsmen and their employees. “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that … this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted for nothing” (Acts 19:25–27).
Demetrius, his moneybag suffering painfully, attacked Paul with two weapons. First, he addressed the economic pain that was being caused his associated craftsmen and the families of their employees because of the loss of sales of the man-made gods. Second, he called on the culture of fear that was evident if anyone spoke against Artemis. A 21st century industrialist might seek out a “Paul” to blame for his business failures, and if he can swing a punch pleading for his favorite charity or religion, it is just so much more fun. The crowds of Ephesians erupted after Demetrius’ “revelations” just as the media-provoked citizens of today react.
The Jews who had rejected Paul’s teaching of Christ wanted the Ephesians to know that Paul, a Jew, was not their kind of Jew. “Don’t blame us for his damage to your economy.” They thrust forward Alexander to make their case. Recognizing him as a Jew, “for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:34). A wild, uncontrolled mob; a frightened and concerned Jewish citizenry; probably a smiling and gloating Demetrius—he had disrupted this anti-Artemis thing, now back to the good old days!
But, then it appeared that the Lone Ranger came riding in on his white horse. The city manager, apparently a powerful local political leader who also had connections in the Roman government, stepped forward and choosing his words carefully, brought calm. He played to the crowd by praising Artemis. He told the crowd that these men they had brought to the stadium, Gaius and Aristarchus, associates of Paul, had done nothing wrong. “For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious or blasphemous of our goddess” (Acts 19:37). Next, he told Demetrius that if he had a problem, he should take it to court, warning him that going to court could bring in Roman officials (Acts 19:35–39).
Then he emphasized his real concern: “For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion” (Acts 19:40). Rome’s power had spread over much of the Mediterranean world, spreading its control very thin. Therefore, it permitted the local people to handle their own affairs, but if there were any disturbances, a very heavy hand of the military would assume authority, usually with little regard for the righteousness of any uprising. Therefore, the city clerk cut off all further activity by dismissing the crowd (Acts 19:41).
What was the result for Paul? After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Paul had work to do. He had other congregations to encourage, to correct, and generally he must keep spreading the message of salvation by God’s grace alone.
The 21st century world has all of the same idol worship, crafty and cunning obstructions to the Word of God, the outspoken hatred for those who bring the message of salvation. The difference between 55 A.D. and 2015 A.D. is only in the intensity of the evil that has been expanded by 2000 years of man’s discipleship of Satan.
All praise to the God of our salvation who is in control and who will right all harm according to His standards!
King of Grace Lutheran Church
Golden Valley, MN