Acts 19: 21-41

Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia 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 as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 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.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Things were going well in Ephesus. The Church was growing. Men were coming to Christ. Verse 20 says, “So, the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.” With Ephesus, peaceful Paul started making travel plans. He resolved to travel to Achaia and Macedonia and then onto Jerusalem. Once he completed that trip he would then travel to Rome.

Paul sent ahead of him to Macedonia Timothy and Erastus. About that time things started to go south in Ephesus.

Paul had not yet left when a man name Demetrius started an uprising against the spreading of the Word of God. Demetrius was a silversmith. He made a living making and selling silver shrines to the goddess Artemis.

Who was this Artemis? She was a Greek goddess. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Her twin sister was Apollo. The Greeks thought of Artemis a protector of young girls. They worshiped Artemis as one of the primary goddesses of childbirth and midwifery. She was one of the most widely venerated of the Ancient Greek deities. Her temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Romans called her Diana. So an assault on Artemis was no small matter.

It would be easy to think Demetrius’ concern was only for financial gain. Doing so only considers part of what he said.

Demetrius went to others in his trade. Notice what he said. Making images of the goddess was their trade. This was their life’s work. They devoted themselves to it. Along come this fellow Paul and says gods made with hands are not gods at all. In other words. Paul said their life’s work, what they had devoted themselves to was worthless. This was an assault on them. This was an assault on their religion. This assaulted what they held dear. This was more than economic.

Too often we reduce everything to money. Yes, Malow’s hierarchy of needs is a good rule of thumb. But it does not explain why people strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up. It does not explain why 10 IRA prisoners in the 1980s starved themselves to death. They did this with food a few feet away. Belief in something greater than one’s self trumps Malow’s hierarchy of needs. A belief does not need to be true for people to hold it dear.

Christ’s message damage Demetrius’ pocketbook, yes. But his concern went deeper. What was the danger he was alerting his fellow tradesmen to? “The temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence…” His loss was of no concern to the people. Their concern was for their goddess Artemis.

Demetrius has two concerns. He was fearful his craft would die. And He was fearful people would strip goddess Artemis of her greatness. I do not deny Demetrius had financial concerns. What riled him was something he imagined was greater than that.

His superstition drove him to a point where he made a living from it. He and his other craftsmen saw this as more than financial. The first lesson is we need to be careful about our choices. They must always be inline with Christ’s doctrine.

The second lesson is Demetrius, and the people were passionate about their religion. They all saw the veneration of Artemis as important. If it were only economic Demetrius could have made other things out of silver. They were willing to kill for Artemis. Passion does not make right. Arguing with them would not convenience them to abandon their superstition. It is only through God’s grace anyone comes to Him. Our job is to present the gospel. It is God’s job to change the heart.

Satan will fight the Word of God with all he has. Satan wants people religious. Religion invites passion. Satan is a religious pluralist. He does not even care what you call it. You can call it Christian. His concern is that you do not trust in Christ alone.

The crowd grabbed Paul’s associates and dragged them into the theater. Here we see mob psychology in full display. People were full of passion. They were excited. They were angry but they had no idea why. They only knew it had something to do with Artemis. So they all shout “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” They shouted for two hours.

The fact religious fervor drove the crowd is clear by their reaction to Alexander. When they recognized he was a Jew they shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Most of the people in the crowd did not know why they were there. Instead of reason, they were content with their own madness. They were in religious fervor.

This too should serve as a lesson to us. Christianity is a religion of reason based on history. Christ died for our sins was buried and the third day he rose from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15: 3-4) There is historical evidence of that. If that did not happen then Christianity if a worthless religion. (1 Corinthians 15:17) We need to understand the historicity of the resurrection.

Paul wanted to rush in and address the crowd. That was Paul’s nature. He was not one to stand by. He saw an error. And he wanted to address it. He wanted to correct it. His associates were in the middle of the confusion. But Paul’s friends prevented him from entering the theater.

Some in the crowd prompted Alexander to address the crowd. But he never got the chance. I have read two theories about why they wanted Alexander to address the crowd. The first is he was a Jewish convert and he was to explain there was no assault on Artemis. The second was He was a Jewish convert and the Jews pushed him in front of the crowd hoping they would kill him. The fact the scripture does not tell us indicates the motive is unimportant.

The town clerk was able to calm the people down. He does something interesting. Like Christianity, he appeals to history. “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.” (v 35-36)

What is the difference between Christianity’s claim to historicity and the town clerk’s claim? The town clerk said a stone fell from the sky. This does not need the intervention of a deity. It is a natural occurrence. Meteors hit the earth everyday. But Christ rose for the dead. Without the direct intervention of God, we can say without fear of contradiction. Dead men stay dead.

Christ’s resurrection proved He was God.
The town clerk’s concern was not religious. His concern was for civil peace. His concern was the intervention of Roman soldiers.

The town clerk says the men are innocent of any sacrilege or blasphemy. The crowd’s reaction is interesting. It is almost as if they said. “Oh then what is the big deal.” And they left.

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