" />

To the End of the Earth (45): City Riot

Series: To the End of the Earth

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 20, 2007

Acts 19:21-41

Download Audio

The Lord's Day Evening

May 20, 2007

Acts 19:21-41

To the Ends of the Earth
City Riot

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Please open your Bibles to Acts 19 beginning at verse 21, and we're reading through into the first verse of the next chapter. Before we read that together, let's look to God in prayer. Let's pray.

Father, we are thankful again for the Scriptures, for the word of God that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We thank You that every book of the Bible, every chapter in every book, every sentence, every word, every syllable, every jot and tittle comes from You. It is the product of Your out-breathing, and because You gave it and You cannot lie, Scripture cannot lie. And therefore as we read the Scriptures tonight again, help us to be mindful of this enormous gift that You have given to us. We thank You, O Lord, that it is able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord. So, Lord, help us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now let's hear God's word as we find it in verse 21 of Acts, chapter 19. Paul, as you remember, is in Ephesus. Various things have happened. He's been preaching for the last two years or so now in the hall of Tyrannus in the great city of Ephesus.

“Now after these things were finished Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ Having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
“And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a certain man name Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.’ And when they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ And the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia. And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. And also some of the Asiarchs who are were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together. And some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ And after quieting the multitude, the town clerk said, ‘Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven? Since then these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today's affair, since there is no real cause for it; and in this connection we shall be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.’ And after saying this he dismissed the assembly. And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to Macedonia.”

Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His word, and exciting reading it surely was. Maybe you've got something like that in store, all of you going on mission trips this summer! That's what it costs to follow Jesus now.

Well, we've been looking at The Acts of The Apostles together. Tonight we come to one of the most exciting, from one point of view and alarming from another… insightful, from yet another point of view…of the way the natural man, the man and woman without faith in Jesus Christ will form for himself or herself an idol. Because what you see in this great city of Ephesus is idolatry, the worship of “the great Artemis of the Ephesians” (or, some of you will have “Diana of the Ephesians” if you’re reading from the King James Version of the Bible). “Man's mind,” John Calvin wrote back in the middle of the sixteenth century, “Man's mind is a perpetual factory of idols.” The natural man is always creating something to worship because we were made to worship, and unless we worship the one true and living God we will find something or someone to worship in His place. And what you see here in Ephesus is how the gospel challenges idolatry.

You get the impression that all that Paul had been doing for the last two years was working in the mornings in leather goods, in the business of Priscilla and Aquila, and then during siesta time, eleven through to about three or four in the afternoon, he was in this rented hall of Tyrannus, and there speaking to whoever he could gather about the gospel. Day after day after day, he had been slowly but surely and methodically engaging in Bible study and defense of the gospel, and proclamation of Christ as Messiah and Lord.

Now, there’d been a little opposition two years previous in the synagogue, when the Jews had arisen and spoken evil of the Way. There was a discernible pattern to the Christian life. When you follow Jesus, it makes a mark, it shows; it shows in your lifestyle, it shows in your conversation. It shows in the choices that you make. It shows in the things you no longer do. And that Way, that pattern, that lifestyle had begun to penetrate into the city of Ephesus. And the Jews had spoken evil of the Way; and Paul, you remember, had gone to this hall of Tyrannus.

There had been some displays of extraordinary power. There had been that strange event with the seven sons of Sceva, who had tried to exorcise demons, you remember…sons of a pretender Jewish priest of some kind…and in trying to exorcise those evil spirits they had been mauled in the process.

And then there had been those disciples of John who had never heard of Jesus and who were baptized in the name of Jesus and began to speak in tongues, and a mini-Pentecost had broken out in Ephesus. And then there had been that book-burning ritual. In today's currency, millions of dollars worth of books and spells of magic arts, and necromancy and other things…they had been burned in a great conflagration in the city.

Luke doesn't mention it, but sometime during this period he met Onesiphorus, whom we read of in the pastoral epistles. He will be of great help to Paul when he actually gets to the city of Rome and finds himself under house arrest.

Sometime during this period he had been instrumental in the conversion of Philemon and Epaphrus, who were natives of Colossae, which was really just up the road from Ephesus in the Lycus Valley. And soon he will be met with a delegation from Corinth, the city where he had been before he came to Ephesus, and Stephanos and Fortunatus and some members of the household of Chloe will come to visit him in Ephesus and bring bad news about division in the city of Corinth. He may even have made what is sometimes called a “painful visit to Corinth” during this period, that he mentions in the letter that he writes to Corinth sometime towards the end of this period in Ephesus.

He intends to make a journey north, to go north to Troas and then over to Macedonia, and then back down to Jerusalem again. He doesn't tell us why he wants to do this. When you read the epistles you will understand perfectly what was on Paul's mind. Luke has a different agenda here. Luke has the agenda. He wants to get Paul to Rome. That's where Luke will end The Acts of The Apostles, and that's why this statement of Paul's here, “I must also see Rome,” —not because, like you and me, tourists, we want to go and eat ice cream in Rome!–he wants to take the gospel to Rome! That's the center of the Roman Empire. But when you read the epistles, of course you will remember the great burden of the apostle at this point is the collection, the offering that was being gathered in Macedonia and Achaia. It had already been gathered in Macedonia and Achaia; it had come to a stop in Corinth because of the division, and he wants to take this offering to the starving Jews in Jerusalem, the church in Jerusalem.

And then, you remember that little allusion in I Corinthians 15, in the letter that he writes just round about now. In I Corinthians he mentions having to contend with wild beasts in Ephesus. Now there's no mention of it here in Acts, and for that reason it is unlikely that he means that in a literal sense, although it is possible. Perhaps what he means by “wild beasts in Ephesus” is this very incident that is before us in Acts 19. When he writes his second epistle to the Corinthians, he also makes a back-reference to this period, and he says in the opening chapter of

II Corinthians that he despaired of life itself when he was in Ephesus. Maybe that is a reference to Paul here standing outside this amphitheater when this great crowd are in riotous behavior — and murderous behavior, to boot.

And I want us to see a number of things as we look at this extraordinary passage tonight, and I want you first…especially you who are going on this so very, very important mission trip this summer, as you put the gospel first and foremost in your lives, and the cause of the kingdom of God first and foremost in your lives…I want us to be reminded of the Apostle Paul because I think what Luke is wanting to say to us here is that Paul was a man with one vision. He had one thing on his mind. You remember when he writes to the Philippians, he said, “This one thing I do….” This one thing I do…he was a man of one thing, a single-minded determination to glorify Christ in the proclamation of the gospel. His one concern in life was to see men and women drawn to embrace Jesus Christ.

I. The pattern of suffering.

Now the first thing I want us to see here is the pattern of suffering. A pattern of suffering…for two years he has been in the hall of Tyrannus, and the question …you know, you've got to ask this question: What was it that Paul had done that sparked this riotous unrest in Ephesus? You have to come to the conclusion it was more than just the speech of Demetrius. Now, the speech of Demetrius was inflammatory, to be sure; but you get the sense that something had been building up for months and months and months in the city of Ephesus, and Demetrius’ speech was the fire, the spark that lit the fire in the city of Ephesus.

I think you get a clue when Luke says in verse 23, “And about this time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way.” (There it is again. It's Luke's favorite designation of describing the shape and pattern of the Christian life. It's called the Way.) And something of the pattern of godliness, something about the pattern of Jesus-shaped lives in Ephesus had got to these people. As Paul had been faithfully preaching and teaching day after day in the hall of Tyrannus and men and women had been saved, and they were being built up and instructed in their faith, and there was a discernible pattern about their lifestyle…and it irked them! I think the very presence of this church in Ephesus irked them.

What had Paul been doing? All that he had been doing was preaching the gospel. All that he had been doing was Bible study, and Bible study, and Bible study. You know Ephesus was a cultural city. I think I'd have quite liked Ephesus. No mention of Paul here relaxing in the agora, drinking his espresso macchiato and reading his Homer's Iliad. All he's doing is preaching the gospel. That's his concern, his single-minded concern. And trouble ensues.

You know…I didn't do the math here, but it's about the tenth time in The Acts of The Apostles that Luke is telling us that as a consequence of faithful preaching and teaching and evangelism, trouble ensues…because it's one of the principles of the kingdom of God. It's the law of harvest that Jesus spoke of, that unless a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it remains alone; but that if it dies, it bears fruit. In other words, Jesus is saying that in order for blessing to come to others, death has to come to some, and in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, as he tells the Corinthians, “Death is at work in us in order that life may be at work in you.” And as Calvin says in a comment on a verse in the first chapter of I Peter, “God has so ordered the church from the very beginning that the cross is the way to victory, and death is the way to life.” And I think you see it here, this pattern of suffering here in Ephesus. Sooner or later, as a result of faithful Christian living, teaching, preaching, evangelism, you’ll spark the ire of the evil one, my friends. Don't be surprised if between now and when you head off to Peru or Africa or China, or —where else are you going? — Ukraine…don't be surprised if the devil gets angry, because Jesus told His disciples that the principle of kingdom building, the principle of church building, is that He builds His church within sight of enemy-occupied territory. He builds His church, and the gates of Hades are right there before it. Don't be surprised…don't ever be surprised when Satan rises up in anger at what you’re doing.

A pattern, then, of suffering.

II. An accusation

Secondly, we see an accusation of opportunism. An accusation of opportunism…it comes from this man Demetrius, the silversmith. He was a maker of up-market trinkets in silver, not terra cotta little statues and shrines of the goddess Artemis of the Ephesians. Archaeologists have discovered some of these terra cotta shrines, but Demetrius made the expensive stuff. He made the silver shrines that people would have in their homes. Artemis, of course, was the great goddess of the Ephesians. (Diana, she was called in the older translations of the Scriptures.)

There was in Ephesus an annual ritual. Think of Corpus Christi in Rio de Janeiro, when they carry the statue of Mary through the city, and thousands — tens of thousands — of people are there with garlands of flowers and so on. And it's like New Orleans used to be. Well, there was something of that in Ephesus as they carried this wooden statue of Artemis through the city. She was the great goddess of the Ephesians, and she was worshiped in the temple. The temple at Ephesus was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. And you see what Demetrius in this magnificent speech — you have to credit them, and it's a magnificent speech. He knows how to win a crowd. He’d be a fearful politician! He knows how to pull at those emotional strings, and what he's saying, you see, is that as a result of what Paul has been doing, as a result of what the gospel has been doing in Ephesus their business is suffering. They’re not buying these shrines any more. And you notice what he says in verse 25: “From this we make our wealth.” They made a substantial amount of money from this business, and their business is hurting because the gospel has affected the way people live their lives. And it's a masterful speech. He's making a counter-revolutionary speech. He stirs up, as it were, the enmity against Paul. ‘This man needs to be stopped!’ is what he's saying.

Now you notice–and I have to think in verse 26 that when Luke wrote this in verse 26, quoting now from Demetrius–I have to think that Luke is somewhat smiling as he's writing it, because what is it that Demetrius is accusing Paul saying? That “gods made with hands are no gods at all.” You know, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand the stupidity of what this man is actually saying. Of course…of course something that you make cannot be a god. A child knows that. How can the thing that is made be the god of the one who made it? And yet isn't it a signal of the blindness of unbelief that these people in Ephesus were taken in by what Demetrius is saying? Do you remember how the prophet Isaiah in chapter 44, and again in chapter 46…you remember he talks about a man going out into the woods and chopping down a tree? And he chops down this tree, and with half of the tree he chops up firewood. And he lights a fire, and he cooks his breakfast, and he cooks bacon and eggs [well, he would have been a Jew, so he wouldn't have cooked bacon and eggs!] …but he cooked his breakfast. And the other half of the tree he carves into a god and bows down and worships it. He burns half and makes his breakfast, and the other half he bows down and worships it. And Isaiah, you remember, mocks the stupidity of unbelief, the irrationality of unbelief.

And do you know, my friends, Demetrius understood that. That's what made him so angry, because he understood something in the blindness of his unbelief. He understood something: that the gospel challenges idolatry; that the gospel challenges the stupidity of unbelief. Our belief is rational. Our belief is coherent. Our belief stands up to any test you want to impose upon it. And the gospel challenges those idols–the idols of money, and the idols of sex, and the idols of power.

Do you remember the rich young man that comes running up to Jesus? “Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He worshiped and bowed down at the idol called mammon. He bowed down at the god of money. And when Jesus told him that in order to enter the kingdom of God he must sell all that he had and give to the poor, he could not do it, you see.

The accusation of opportunism made against the Apostle Paul.

III. Mob confusion

Well, thirdly, there is a demonstration here of mob confusion. If economic self-interest wasn't enough, what Demetrius goes on to say is very clever. Demetrius goes on to challenge what Paul is doing to the native culture of Ephesus. He's saying, ‘Paul is challenging the way we live; he's challenging the way we are. This is what defines us, this is our culture, this is our heritage. This is our history. We are the great city of Ephesus, with a temple of Artemis–chosen by this goddess to be the location of her dwelling place.’

And the crowd resorts now to chanting. In mob-riotous behavior, they chant. I don't know whether you've ever been…well, a soccer match or a football match or something, where the whole crowd…and this amphitheater in Ephesus was a 25,000-seat amphitheater. And you can imagine — some of you can imagine all too well what 25,000 people sound like when they’re chanting one thing. And here they are, and they’re chanting, “Artemis…great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” and they’re chanting it over and over and over. It's a demonstration of mob confusion. Some of them are chanting one thing to begin with, and some of them are chanting another thing, and some of them don't even know why they’re there, Luke says. They’re just caught up in the mob. They’re just caught up in the heat and emotion of the moment. They’re like sheep without a shepherd.

I remember in 1998 when another Diana was on the minds of men and women. Princess Diana had died, and I was in Scotland the day of her funeral, and I was on a train going from Edinburgh to London. And as the train pulled in a few minutes before eleven o’clock to a station in the north of England, there was an announcement on the platform that a decree had been given the day before that there would be a two-minute silence in memory of Princess Diana at eleven o’clock, and it was two minutes to eleven. Everybody–I am not exaggerating–everybody on that train got off the train and stood on the platform, myself included. Hundreds and hundreds of people standing on a platform in absolute silence, in memory of Princess Diana.

Some of you might have read P.D. James’ novel…the crime-thriller writer P.D. James’ A Time to be Earnest. It was an account of 1997 and 1998, and she asks, I thought, a very telling question. She says about that Diana, “For what were they mourning? For what were they mourning? I suspect,” she said, “for themselves. I suspect for themselves…the emptiness of their lives, and that someone, somewhere, was challenging that emptiness, and they had no answers.” And Paul now is the scapegoat who has been challenging the emptiness of these Ephesian lives, robbing them of their culture, challenging the goddess Diana …Artemis. And it's a demonstration of mob confusion.

IV. A surprising vindication.

But there's a fourth thing I want us to see here, and it's a very surprising thing. Let me put it in this way. It's a surprising vindication.

Two of Paul's friends have been dragged into the amphitheater. Paul is still outside. Two of Paul's friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, have been dragged by this mob into the amphitheater, and they’d been chanting for two hours now. And it's the town clerk…it's the town clerk who speaks, and he speaks in a surprising way, an astonishing way, because apart from accusing the crowd of being on the verge of riotous behavior and therefore an offense against the Roman state, these men, he says, have done nothing wrong. They’re not robbers of the temple, nor have they spoken ill of the goddess Artemis of the Ephesians.

Now Calvin says if Paul had been inside the amphitheater that charge would most certainly have been true, because if Paul had been inside there, he would most certainly have said something about Artemis of the Ephesians, I think. And it may have been God's providential over-ruling for the time being to save his life that he was kept outside–and he was kept outside by Asiarchs. Now Asiarchs were defenders. They were wealthy, well-to-do folks who served for a year in the imperial cult of emperor worship. And they’re called — do you notice? — “friends of the Apostle Paul.” It's the most astonishing thing. These people were not Christians, they were not believers; but they were friends of the Apostle Paul.

And I think what Luke is trying to tell us here is this. Do you ever ask yourself the question…we've been studying Acts now for over a year, but do you ever ask the question, Why did Luke write Acts? You know, why did he write this? And why does he end in chapter 28 with Paul in prison in Rome, but it's not the prison from which he’ll be taken out and executed. He's under house arrest; he will be released after verse 28, and then re-caught and brought back to Rome again. Why does he end where he ends? And one of the answers to that question is that Luke is writing Acts to defend the integrity of the Apostle Paul as a Roman citizen. He's defending the integrity of the Apostle Paul as a Roman citizen. No one could charge the Apostle Paul with violating his citizenship within the Empire of Rome. In fact, what these Asiarchs seem to be saying …and in fact, what the town clerk seems to be saying about Paul's friends is ‘You know, I may not agree with what they believe in, but they are good citizens. In fact they are the very best citizens in the Empire. They’re not out to destroy the Empire. That's not their goal.’ And Luke is wanting to say to us, do you see? There was only one thing on the mind of the Apostle Paul, and it was the gospel. It was the gospel that called sinners to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, because that's the most important thing of all — the gospel that transforms lives. Because politics can't do that. And I suspect if you were to ask the Apostle Paul, you know, ‘Where are you in the political field?’ he would look at you and say ‘What kind of question is that?’ Now, he's not saying that politics is unimportant, don't misunderstand me. But for the Apostle Paul, if you want to change a life–and in fact, if you want to change society–you don't do it through politics. You do it through the gospel, through preaching the gospel, and preaching Jesus Christ and seeing lives transformed as a result of that.

The Lesson:

And there's a lesson here, I think. And the lesson is not ‘trust in Jesus and all your troubles will disappear.’ The lesson is that the closer you are to the King, and the more focused you are on the gospel, the more likely you are to draw the enemy's fire.

And sometimes, my friends, sometimes I ask myself, could this happen here in Jackson, with all the malaise in this city? And you watch the six o’clock news, and you throw your hands in the air in dismay and wonder and astonishment. And do you know what will change this city? The gospel. The gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And I sometimes wonder as I lie in bed at night, could that change begin from this church, as believers go out into this city and demonstrate the Way– the way of Christ, the way of life, the way to heaven, the way of holiness, the way of godliness, the way of Christ-likeness? Oh, that it may be so!

Let's pray together.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the web page. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any error to be with the transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permissions information, please visit the FPC Website, Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.