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To Whom Do We Cling?

Last Sunday we were reminded all over again about the incredible power of our God. As we read through the beginning parts of Acts chapter 19, we saw God do some amazing things through Paul and in the city of Ephesus in general!

  • We saw people being healed simply by touching Paul’s handkerchiefs & work aprons.
  • We saw evil spirits being cast out in the same manner.
  • We saw both Jews & Greeks throughout the province of Asia being taught the Word of the Lord through Paul’s teaching.
  • And we saw many people believe in Christ, confess and repent of their sins, and choose to live whole-heartedly for Christ!

As we read in our concluding verse last week:

20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. Acts 19:20

God was clearly at work in Ephesus – just like He is today – even in our town of Penhold! God is always at work, carrying out His good will through His people – people like you, me, and Paul.

And of course, Paul was willing to carry out God’s work where ever God would lead him. And at this particular time, God was preparing to move him on to Macedonia, Achaia, to Jerusalem, and eventually on to Rome.

In verse 21, we see the Holy Spirit beginning to nudge Paul in those directions. It says…

21 Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.

Acts 19:21-22

In just a short while, Paul would leave Ephesus and as he had hoped, would indeed go on to Rome to preach the Gospel – but it probably wouldn’t be in the manner that he expected. Little did he know, he would be arriving in Rome in chains – preparing to stand trail before Ceasar!

But of course, that’s all quite a bit down the road yet. For now, he stayed a little longer in Asia – long enough to find himself in the centre of a great uproar in Ephesus!

And that’s what we’re going to look at today. So if you have your Bibles, you can turn to Acts chapter 19.

Now just before we read, keep in mind that there has been a great revival in Ephesus during Paul’s time in the city. Last week we read about how people were being dramatically transformed by God. For example: many people who had been practicing sorcery had burned all their incantation books at a public bonfire – burning up millions of dollars worth of books! So the Gospel has clearly been impacting this city in some majors ways! And we’re going to see that even more clearly today: So we pick up the story now in verse 23.

23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Acts 19:23-28

And we’ll stop here for now. So here we have this fellow Demetrius – a man who’s business was directly connected with idol worship. And in Ephesus, business was booming – or at least it had been! Demetrius had employed many people and grown quite wealthy by manufacturing silver shines of the Greek goddess Artemis. But as the Gospel spread throughout the whole province of Asia, the business of making idols had taken quite a hit!

And so Demetrius gathers up all the craftsmen and all the folks in similar trades, and gives a rousing speech designed to stir up the people against Paul. And he makes two main arguments against Paul – points that he knows will certainly stir up people’s emotions.

First of all he talks about their money. He begins his speech with “Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business.” That’s the opening line – and really, I think that’s the bottom line too! Despite his further talk about how’s he’s concerned about the prestige of the great goddess Artemis, I suspect the greatest concern for Demetrius is the financial loss that Paul and the Gospel has caused him.

The fact was, as more and more people in Ephesus had come to faith in Christ, they began to realize that the God of heaven is the One and only true God – and all these other manufactured gods that they had been serving really weren’t gods at all! And so you can imagine the impact this would have had one the bottom line for these idol manufacturers. The Gospel had made a serious dent in their bank accounts.

And then, if that wasn’t enough to get all the craftsman upset, Demetrius then appeals to their pride!

He goes on to talk about how they as craftsmen will lose public respect if the Gospel continues to spread – and even worse, the temple of Artemis – the thing that put Ephesus on the map and gave it widespread influence – their temple would lose it’s influence.

You see, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! It was an incredible structure built of solid marble and and decorated with silver and gold – and at the time, was considered to be the most beautiful building in the world. It was also used as a major treasury or bank of sorts for the ancient world. Merchants, kings, and other cities would deposit their wealth here to be protected by the goddess Artemis. This temple really was the crown-jewel of Ephesus – and so for this temple to lose it’s influence and prestige would be a significant blow to the pride of people of Ephesus!

And this exactly what Demetrius presented to his fellow craftsman! This fellow Paul would rob them of their wealth, would rob them of their influence, and would rob them of their prestige.

And really, for anyone who lives merely for the world, what more could you take from them? Wealth, influence and prestige is about the best the world can offer! 

But what these guys didn’t realize is that Paul was offering them something much greater – something the world could never give them!

Through Christ, Paul was presenting them the opportunity to have eternal significance – to have a vast abundance (not of gold and silver which can be easily lost or taken away) but a vast abundance joy and peace that can never be taken away. Paul was offering them the opportunity to be accepted and forgiven by the Creator of the World – valued & known by Him as a dearly loved son or daughter.

Demetrius and his fellow craftsman were so caught up in what they could lose because of Paul, that they totally missed out on all they could gain through a relationship with Jesus Christ!

The Apostle John would later write in 1 John 2:15…

15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

1 John 2:15-17

The life that God offers us is so much more valuable and fulfilling and lasting – far more than anything the world can offer…  wealth, influence, prestige, pleasure – in the end, all of that means nothing. It all fades away.

How foolish it is for us to cling to the things of this life – and miss out on all that God has to offer us instead!

But unfortunately, that’s the case for many people today. Clinging to the temporary things of this world, they miss out on the better and lasting things of heaven.

And even as Christians, how often do we choose the temporary pleasures of this world instead of the truly satisfying way of Jesus?

  • How often do we tell a lie – even a little white lie – just to save face – but at the cost of our integrity?
  • How often do we cling to our pride, instead of humbling ourselves before God and others?
  • How often do we find ourselves loving the things of the world – more than we love the One who created all those things?

Like Demetrius and those craftsman, too often we choose the temporary and fleeting pleasures of this world, rather than the lasting and truly satisfying ways of God.

Jesus said:

25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. John 12:25

We need to be careful not to cling to the things of this world – but rather, we need to cling to Jesus – knowing that He is the only thing worth clinging to – the only thing that will last into eternity!

As for Demetrius and his fellow craftsman, they foolishly clung tightly to the things of the world. And so, when they concluded that Paul was robbing them of their wealth, robbing then of their influence, and robbing their temple of it’s great prestige, they whipped the entire city into a frenzy. Verse 28 says…

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater.

32 Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. 

Acts 19:28-32

As is typical in so many angry mobs – most of the people just got caught up in the frenzy – they didn’t even know why they were there! As verse 29 tells us, the whole city was filled with confusion. Some shouting one thing – others shouting another!

We’re told that the mob grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus – who were Paul’s traveling companions – and dragged them into the amphitheater. Paul wanted to go in too – after all, Paul never wanted to miss a chance to present the Gospel to a crowd – but the other believers beg him not to go in because the rioting crowd was liable to kill him! 

So Paul ends up not going inside, but it’s at this point that the jews put forward another fellow to speak to the crowd – and we read about that in verse 33.

33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. 34 But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Acts 19:33-34

Now we don’t really know anything about this Alexander fellow other than the fact that He is a Jew and was put forward by the other Jews to explain the situation. From this, we would assume that he is not a believer trying to defend the case of Christianity – but rather, he was a Jew trying to distance the Jewish beliefs from the beliefs of Paul.

Remember, at this point, most people just assumed that Christianity was a slight variation within the Jewish tradition and beliefs – and so the Jews likely pushed Alexander to the front to disassociate the Jews from the Christians. But as we see here, that obviously didn’t work! As soon as the crowd realized that Alexander was a Jew, they began chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” over and over again – for about two hours!

Finally, the mayor of the city stepped forward and was able to bring some order to the crowd. In verse 35 we read:

35 At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. 36 Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. 

Acts 19:35-36

Basically, the argument of the Mayor was that they really didn’t need to get all worked up about a few Christians teaching about some other God. In his mind, Artemis was clearly the real deal and so they didn’t need to worry about Artemis losing her influence because of Paul and this small band of Christians. As far as he was concerned, the reality and power of Artemis was undeniable, and thus, her reputation was secure!

Clearly this mayor was a sincere believer of Artemis – but unfortunately, he was sincerely wrong! His belief in the goddess Artemis was totally misplaced. Today, virtually no one worships the goddess Artemis, but yet there are millions who worship the Lord! 

The fact is, over the centuries people have worshipped thousands of different gods and followed thousands of different religions. And I’m sure the majority of those worshippers have been entirely sincere. But as time has proven, they have all been sincerely wrong!

The fact is, there has only every been one God! As Deuteronomy 4:39 says:

39 “So remember this and keep it firmly in mind: The Lord is God both in heaven and on earth, and there is no other.

Deuteronomy 4:39

There is only one God and there is no other. I know it’s not very popular these days to say that there is only one God – and even less popular to say that there is only one way to know that God. But yet, that’s very clearly what the Bible teaches.

We read John 14:6 last week which says:

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6

Jesus is the only way for us to know and be with God, our Heavenly Father. Any other way or any other person is a dead end. It doesn’t matter how much you sincerely believe something – if it’s not true, it’s not true!

And so unfortunately, this mayor – no matter how sincere he may have been – was sincerely wrong about his goddess, Artemis.

But while he was completely wrong his religion, he did have some very logical and valid points about this whole riot business. He continues in verse 37.

37 You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess. 38 “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. 39 And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. 40 I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” 41 Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.

Acts 19:35-41

Despite the mayor’s misguided understanding of Artemis, the rest of his case was pretty solid. Even though Demetrius had accused Paul of robbing them of their wealth, robbing them of their influence, and robbing their temple of it’s prestige – the fact was, no one had stolen anything. As the mayor stated, these men “have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess.” If Demetrius wanted to press formal charges against them, there was a proper procedure for doing that.

As it stood, the only ones in the wrong was the mob for rioting without reason! And so, the mayor dismissed the crowd and everyone went home.

And it kinda seems like a bit of an anticlimactic ending – but I’m sure Paul and his companions breathed a sign of relief as the crowd dispersed and the matter was put to rest. 

And there are a few lessons that we can learn from this story – some of which I’ve already pointed out as we’ve gone along.

But the one that I want to end on is this: Notice, how once again, Paul didn’t have to do a thing to defend himself, to defend his cause, or even to defend his God. Just like in chapter 18 when he was taken before the Governor Gallio, Paul was ready to make his defence, but he never even got a chance! In chapter 18, Gallio threw out the case against Paul – effectively ruling in  his favour and declaring Christianity a legally acceptable religion in the Roman empire – which was amazing!

And now again in chapter 19, Demetrius stirs up the whole city against Paul – Paul is ready to go in and make his defence, but once again, he never even gets a chance – he doesn’t even make it into the building. This time the city mayor comes to his defence – pointing out how Paul and his fellow Christians have never broken any laws and the uproar against them is totally unjustified!

In both situations, we see how God intervenes – and even works through unbelievers – to protect His people, to promote the kingdom, and to pave the way for future ministry.

And I think that’s a great encouragement for us. As followers of Jesus, we know we will face opposition. In fact it seems, if we’re not facing opposition, then maybe we need to check to see if we’re truly following Him – because Jesus said

“Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” John 15:20b

And Paul echos that sentiment. In 2 Timothy 3:12, he says..

12 “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12

As long as we are working for the glory of God and to further his kingdom, we know we will face opposition. But at the same time, we also know that God is with us in our persecution – protecting us, promoting the kingdom through our difficulties, and using our situations to pave the way for future ministry.

Paul Himself would later write:

8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:8-11

And that’s really one of the main purposes why God allows us to go through persecution or other difficult things – “so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies”.

In all of our suffering and hardships, if we continue to cling to Jesus – His life – His goodness – His power – is made evident through our lives!

Often times, we don’t have to do a thing to change our situation – we simply need to trust God and allow Him to work in us and through us – or even as we’ve seen again today, in and through other people – even unbelievers. God can work through anyone or anything!

And through our trials, God will continue to protect His people, to promote His kingdom, and to pave the way for future ministry.

May we be faithful to cling to Jesus and allow His life to be evident through ours!

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