Acts 19:1-10, 19:23-27
August 9, 2009
As we’ve “journeyed” through Acts, we’ve been following Paul along his “second missionary journey.” Maybe you’ve heard that term before. That’s what the church has called these trips Paul took around the Mediterranean area, founding churches and spreading the word. He took three or four of them, depending on whether or not you include his final trip to Rome.
Well, his journey over the last few weeks has been interesting because the names of towns he visited. This sounds like somebody’s reading the table of contents for the New Testament. When he was in Asia Minor, the cities didn’t sound so familiar. But since then, we’ve had stories in places like Philippi, and Thessalonica. Then after being in Athens for our story last week, Paul traveled west to the city of Corinth where he stayed for a year and a half! Corinth was an important city located on that little spit of land between northern and southern Greece. (Without which southern Greece would be an island.)
Now in our reading for today, he has left Corinth and made his way east, across the Aegean Sea, back to Asia Minor. And again, that’s the area we know as Turkey. And he comes to yet another city we know from the New Testament, the city of Ephesus. That’s one of the last stops on his second journey. And I have to wonder whether Paul was growing just a little weary by this point. He’s been through a lot! He’s been persecuted. He’s been followed from city to city by those who opposed him. And now all the craziness seems to have come to a head here in the city of Ephesus.
Now, Ephesus was famous for two things. The Ephesians were keepers of the main temple to the Roman God Artemis. And they were famous for what was described in verse 35 as “the sacred stone that fell from the sky.” That seems to have been some kind of a meteor which they believed had some kind of religious significance.
Well, the “rock thing” didn’t create any problems for Paul. But the temple of Artemis did! Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, (Leto was the goddess of crossword puzzles!) Artemis was also the twin sister of Apollo. And she was the goddess of a number of things, including fertility and hunting, both of which were very important in the ancient world! So it’s no wonder she was one of the most important gods that people worshipped. Artemis was so important that the Romans didn’t even bother to change her name as they did with other Gods they appropriated” from the Greek culture.
So by the time of Paul, the city of Ephesus had become one of the main centers of the worship of Artemis, and the temple of Artemis in that city was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was also big business in that city! And our story for today is about what happened when there was a clash between Paul and Artemis and the business of the temple. And it was no small matter! So I’ve chosen to call this message “Clash of the Titans.” Actually I “borrowed” that title from the 1981 movie, which was a Greek mythological adventure movie. So it seemed appropriate here, as Paul was in a sense “battling” this Greek mythological character.
The trouble started because Paul was in the city preaching about “the Way.” That’s what the early Church called itself. And there he came up against this man named Demetrius, who was a silversmith. And the problem Demetrius had with Paul was that his business was tied to the temple. He made silver shrines of Artemis. So Paul’s preaching of Christ didn’t just threaten this man’s religion. It threatened his income! And it wasn’t just him! As this incident escalated, it became apparent that many people made their living from the worship of Artemis!
So Demetrius got the other silversmiths together along with the other people who profited from the temple, and he got them all stirred up. He told them, “Listen guys! This guy Paul is telling people that God is not made with hands! That’s going to cut into our profits!” “And, our whole trade of idol making could ‘come into disrepute’.” In other words, he could give us a bad name. “And” he said, “the temple of Artemis could come to nothing – ‘she whom all Asia and the world worship’.”
Do you see their concern? There was much at stake her for them here. So, they were “enraged.” And they started crying out in anger, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And it got to be a kind of chant. Can you just picture this scene? It’s like some protest from the ‘60’s! These people got so stirred up that they threatened to start a riot in the city. It got so bad that when Paul wanted to go into the crowd to talk to the people, his companions said, “No way, man!” “Those people are crazy!”
Now, in all this time, you have to wonder what the Romans were thinking. It was still their world. And they were all about order and keeping the peace. One of the biggest things they feared was any kind of riot or uprising! And here the people were so stirred up they were close to that. (If not already in full riot!) And it says that most of them didn’t even know what it was all about! This thing was feeding on itself. So someone asked this guy Alexander to try to calm the people down. But he was a Jewish man, and they didn’t want to listen to him. So the situation went on for two more hours.
It wasn’t until the “town clerk” spoke to them that any kind of order could be restored. He was either a Roman official or he was answerable to them. He told them they’d better “cool it,” because they were in danger of being charged with rioting. And that would have brought the Romans into this! He told them if they have such problems they had better settle them in a “civilized way” – in court!
This was quite a volatile scene! Sometimes we don’t realize it about stories in the Bible. So let me ask you to think about it for a minute. Because I know it sounds like a lot of history. But I think we need to think about what it means to us. What I want you to see is that this is a clash between Paul and the culture. And that kind of thing can be very difficult, can’t it? What do we do when our faith clashes with the world around us? What happens then? When the things of our world come into conflict with our faith, when the prevailing influences in our culture become “inconvenient” to our faith, what then?
Those are huge questions for the Church, and they have been throughout history! It has always been a concern for people how faith impacts their life in this world, and vice-versa. And for years now, I’ve been saying that if we don’t feel a certain amount of tension between what our faith calls us to do, and what the world calls us to do, we might not be taking our faith seriously enough!!! It’s a mistake to think that the things of this world and the things of faith are always compatible. They are not.
There’s more too this, though. Because this is also here a direct clash between Paul and a bigger god – the god of money! Money may be the most powerful of the “titans” of our world. The silversmiths in this story seemed to be much more upset about their loss of wealth and income than they were about the status of the goddess.
By the way, I’m not saying that money is evil. Remember, Jesus didn’t say that either. He didn’t say “money was the root of all evil. He said, “The Love of money was the root of all evil.” The problem is not money, but the overwhelming desire to serve money and pursue the almighty dollar. (Especially since the almighty dollar is not so mighty as it once was!!) I know this is a tough message in a difficult time. Financial concerns are huge in our world today. But I would ask you to consider how we balance the responsibilities of “making a living” in this world – which Paul would tell us is important – with the living of our faith.
As with many things in this life of faith, perspective and balance are the keys! Which is more important, and how do we keep them both in their places and be responsible with both. They both cannot be first. Jesus said, “You cannot love both God and money!” But we can keep both in their proper place. And that’s not easy!
I think this is one part of our faith that we need to keep in our thoughts every day! Because if we don’t, it can get out of perspective very quickly! If Satan ever wants to derail us in our spiritual lives, this is an easy way to do it. It’s easy for him to get us frustrated, and to get us to believe God is powerless in our world. And like the scene in Ephesus, just think about the kind of chaos this issue has the potential to cause!
Now, I don’t propose we become hermits or monks living in the wilderness, avoiding all the vestiges of worldliness. And I don’t think we should believe that all worldly things are evil. Far from it. The psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof!” I am amazed by the wonders of this earth, and the wonders of what good people have done and continue to do in this world. I hope you are, too.
I believe God wants us to be “in the world” while we strive to be “not of the world.” I believe he wants us to be good citizens of our culture, and people who appreciate all the wonders and joys this life has to offer. But I also believe he wants us to be people who have proper perspective on all of it. And he wants us to be people who know the source of the true power and joy and blessing in his life! That’s our goal! Do you know that. Please join me in prayer.
Eternal God, we here know that you are the source of all life. Please give us visions of your kingdom, and so help us to keep you as our highest priority. Help us balance all the many concerns and demands in our lives, that we would ever glorify your name, and live in the joy of your kingdom. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.