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A Great Disturbance About the Way

Date: Jun. 22, 2014

Author: Michael Mark

Acts 19:23-41

Key Verse: Acts 19:23

“About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”

The word disturbance is defined as an interruption of a peaceful or settled condition. By that definition, who has been on a car ride, and come across a great disturbance? There was one time I was in college, driving with 3 other friends to Urbana-Champaign. The ride started out nice, and fun, then a severe rainstorm hit. I could not see more than 5 feet ahead of me, and had to depend on the road markers to stay on the road. It was really a scary thought, and I feared not only for my life bur the lives of the passengers in my car. There are other disturbances as well. Has anyone ever experienced a long car ride with kids? Things may start out peaceful, until they start asking, “Are we there yet?” every 5 minutes. I’ve been on rides where grown ups did that to me. On purpose, of course. As Christians, we will undoubtedly face disturbances in our lives that will challenge our faith. These disturbances to try to hinder, destroy or discourage faith in Christ because there are enemies of Christ, including our own evil hearts, the evil that is in the world, and last but not least Satan himself. However we will see today that God can overrule any disturbance, even great ones, and restore peace and order.

Our passage today is about a great disturbance. Look at v.23, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.” This isn’t going to be just any disturbance, it was going to be a huge one. It was going to be a disturbance about the Way. “The Way” was what believers of Christ were first called, but today they are called Christians. So if you are a Christian, you are also a member of “The Way.” As we learned last week, and it is worth mentioning again, “The Way” comes from John 14:6, where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is not “A Way,” but he says he is “THE Way.” He is the only way. The only way to what? The only way to God, and to life. But there are many who are opposed to Jesus Christ, and his followers. Jesus said he is the truth. Again, not “a” truth, but “THE” truth. To reject Jesus is to reject truth, and we will see that the only way to oppose Jesus is to use and embrace lies and deception.

There was a silversmith named Demetrius, who would be the primary instigator behind the great disturbance. He made silver shrines of Artemis. Artemis was the primary goddess in Ephesus, and worshipped primarily as a fertility goddess. The Ephesians built a magnificent temple for her, and it was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It consisted of 127 pillars, each 60 feet tall, with great sculptures all around. It was the pride and identity of the Ephesian people, and people from all throughout the province of Asia came to see and worship Artemis of the Ephesians. The temple also served as one of the most important banks. People, merchants and politicians from all over kept their money there, where the felt it was safe under the protection of a goddess. Demetrius made silver shrines of Artemis, like tiny scale-model temples, and he brought in a lot of business for the craftsman there. He may have been the guild-leader that year, something like a president of a union of craftsman.

Demetrius called together the craftsman along with workers in related trades and said to them, “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business.” Here, Demetrius starts out with a temptation, and we see what the main thing on his mind was. He captures the interest of his audience, which was also his own primary interest. It was money. Who doesn’t like money? There’s a song that says money makes the world go ‘round. But the Bible does say, in 1 Tim 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and in this case it is the root of Demetrius’ evil. He must have been very wealthy, as he said, making good income from this business. But as we saw last week, there was such a great work of God in Ephesus that people started to confess their sins and turn to God. They publicly burned all of their magic scrolls, which we estimated to be the equivalent of millions of dollars today. Without a doubt, this would also have a big impact to the idol business. This would have disturbed Demetrius, who wants to now disturb Paul and the followers of the Way.

Starting with the temptation, he now casts doubt on the Paul and the truth, to gain influence over the people. Look at v.26, “And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.” How ironic that while he accuses Paul of leading people astray, he is actually leading people astray. It is true, Paul spoke daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus, and he did this for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord – but he was not leading people astray, he was leading them to the one true God. But now that Paul’s character had been maligned, Demetrius then tries to discredit his teaching, almost in a mocking tone, “He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all.” Paul was right though. If a god, by definition, is supposed to be greater and more powerful than a human being, then how can human hands craft a god? If they are made by human hands, how can they even have life? Can they see? Can they talk? Can they touch and feel? No – they are blind, deaf and mute. So Paul’s argument makes sense – it actually is the truth, but Demetrius is trying to cast doubt on that truth by casting doubt on the character of Paul.

Once doubt has been cast, then he moves in with the great deception. Demetrius continues in v.27, “There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” What he says is actually true. When people believe the gospel, people will naturally reject idols and idolatry. But the deception is this: he doesn’t really care for the religion of Artemis, he only cares about the money. He uses religion as a cover for his true intent and hide his selfish ambitions. Paul had preached the gospel in Ephesus for two years – in that time none of the craftsman, including Demetrius, spoke up. If the gospel didn’t impact his business, then he might as well continued on making silver shrines without a concern for Paul. Looking again at the previous verses, how he talks about making good income, and the danger of the trade losing its good name, we see that the primary issue is not Artemis worship but money. Now that he sees Paul as a threat to his wealth, he tries to stir up a crowd against him, pretending to be religious.

What happens next? Look at v.28, “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” Demetrius’ plan worked! The fire was kindled and soon the whole city was in an uproar. Imagine thousands, if not tens of thousands of people beginning to shout. It started with the craftsmen and workmen in related trades, shouting, and perhaps they started to run all around the city, or those in the city gathered around and joined the cause. But this was neither a peaceful or orderly demonstration. It was a riot, an outright mob, and it got violent. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. In Ephesus, the theater was a huge structure, able to contain almost 25,000 people. In Chamber’s Cyclopaedia, the theater was described as a place where dramas were performed, some to honor Artemis, where sports competitions were held, and even where battles where held: men vs. men, men vs. beasts, or beasts vs. beasts. It might have been the intention of the mob to throw the two men to the wild beasts.

How could the mob have reached this point, escalating to violence, anger, and losing control of themselves? It’s because they believed lies and rejected the truth, and they can have no control over their sins. Hasn’t that happened to you before? I will testify it has happened to me, and I’ve shared this before. I used to have a problem with drinking. When I would tell my friends I’m quitting, and I’m going to be sober (not get drunk) for a whole month. I even gave myself some slack, saying, I could drink, just not get drunk, for 30 days straight. But I soon realized that I was unable to do that, and I tried making goals many more times. It then got to a point where my friends would mock me, and never believe that I could do it. By God’s grace, I’ve been sober since I got married, almost 4 years now, and I think even a little prior to that – but I really can remember a time where I had no control over my sins, as hard as I tried. And that’s you too. That’s all of us, without the power of the Holy Spirit. There are very tragic stories too. In the news there was a woman who killed the ex girlfriend of her current boyfriend in front of him, at his request. She said she did it because she loved him. Sadly she was deceived. And another story, not in the news, but of a woman who was having an affair with a married man. The wife had told the mistress to cut it off, but the mistress said she loved him no matter what. He ended up separating from both of them. Like the mob, we don’t have control over our sins because we are under the power of sin, and we will continue to sin when we reject the truth and believe the lies this world will tell us.

The crowd was out of their minds. They were not in their right minds – so this was not the right time for Paul to intervene. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. He was willing to risk his life to preach the gospel to this unruly mob, but right now, at this point, they may not have been ready to receive the gospel, and looking instead for blood. It was so bad that even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. Here we see some humility on Paul’s part, to accept the warning of the disciples not to enter. We also see the influence of Paul, who had friends in high places now. Officials of the province, high ranking people in the province of Asia, were friends of Paul, and witnesses of the insane riot.

The next verse shows the magnitude of disorder and chaos of the mob. Look at v.32, “The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.” Wow – utter chaos. Some shouting one thing, some another. “Great is Artemis!” “Throw them to the lions!” “Hot dogs, get your hot dogs!” “Dude, why are we here?” Most, not even some of them, most of the people, at least more than half of the crowd, did not know why they were there. Perhaps they followed out of curiosity, hearing the commotion, they wanted to see what was going on. Or perhaps they were running along, shouting throughout the city, but once they got to the theater, they were wondering, “Now what?” No knowledge, no direction – the people were blind, and in the darkness. Likewise without the truth, all people are blind, and in the dark. Those who follow people in darkness are the blind being led by the blind.

Well, shouldn’t someone do something? Ah someone did! Look at v.33-34: “The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” Oh boy, not this again. Yes, they shouted, the same thing, for two hours. The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and the commentaries I’ve read are split between who Alexander is. Some say that he was a Jewish Christian, that the Jews actually wanted to have killed before the audience. Some say he was a Jew, trying to make a defense and distancing themselves from Christians. Whatever the case, he was not heard, but prejudiced by the crowd. They saw he was a Jew, maybe from his facial features, and his clothes, but realized that whatever he was, he was not for Artemis. So they shouted for two hours (two hours!) straight: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” This is additional proof why it might not have been good for Paul to enter either.

Finally, someone arrived that would appease the crowd. Look at v.35-36, “The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: ‘Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash.’” The city clerk was like the mayor of the city. He was definitely a man with authority who everyone knew, so I believe when they saw him motioning, they took him seriously and quieted down. He was a man of great wisdom, though he was not a godly man. He had great faith and confidence in Artemis, maybe even a true worshipper of Artemis – but he did not think that Paul and the disciples would be a threat. Paul spoke about “gods made by human hands that are not gods,” and in the city clerk’s eyes, Artemis was not a goddess made by human hands. Verse 35 says, “her image fell from heaven.” The ESV version of verse 35 says, “the sacred stone that fell from the sky.” So they may have had a meteorite that they also worshipped as the image of Artemis. In addition, by saying all the world knows Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of Artemis, he’s saying Ephesus is the primary center for the worship of Artemis, and if anything, it is the only place where Artemis would not be discredited or robbed of her majesty, as Demetrius suggested.

The city clerk also establishes the innocence of the men who were seized. He says in v.37, “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess.” The followers of the Way, the Christians, were honest and upright men. There is no basis for a charge against them. So finally the town clerk restores order, telling the crowd that Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen should either go to the courts or approach the proconsuls (who were the liasons to the Rome). If there is anything to bring up, it must not be done in a disorderly mob fashion, but in a valid legal assembly. At the end he gives them a sober warning, in verse 40: “As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” Look back in v.27, Demetrius presented a “danger” of the trade losing its good name, but here the city clerk warns of the real danger: being charged with rioting. Rome, being a very powerful Empire, would have demanded that Ephesus, one of the biggest cities in Asia Minor, be under control. They may have enjoyed a privileged status, but the riot might have taken many of those privileges away, which may also hurt the shrine business. After saying these things, he dismissed the assembly.

The city clerk put out the fire of the mob, and delivered the disciples to safety, but what was the real power behind him? It was the power and sovereignty of God that put a stop to the great disturbance and delivered the Christian captives. Romans 13 speaks about the governing authorities, saying that “there is no authority except that which God has established…Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…for the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.” The city clerk, though not a godly man, was still God’s servant. It was God who gave him authority. Caesar is God’s servant. The responsibility of the governing authorities are to punish wrongdoers. Governments are established to protect the nation and keep order, among many other things, and we should also pray for our governing authorities to carry out the will of God. Ultimately, God is the sovereign ruler and deliverer (Savior) of his people.

So thank God for the city clerk, though unfortunately, he was neither for nor against the Christians. He was for Ephesus, for the peace and order of Ephesus. He was against the mob rule, but he was for the worship and honor of Artemis. To prove that God is sovereign, and that he is the true God – look at Ephesus now, and look at the church, the Christians, the followers of the Way now, almost 2,000 years later. Ephesus is in ruins. All that is left of the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is one sad column. But the Christian church continues to expand, build and grow generation after generation. God is living, and he lives today! Great is the God of Israel! Great is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The city clerk (alone) was not the deliverer of those caught in the great disturbance, God alone was the deliverer! He overruled thousands upon thousands of rebellious voices, and shut all their mouths. God is also the deliverer of those caught in the great disturbance of sin, and the power of sin. How do we get to God? Rather, let the question be, how did God get to us?

He provided a Way. Jesus is the Way to God. He is the only Way to God. Some people don’t like to hear that. Some people would reject that notion, and they would say, I’m a good person, I don’t need Jesus to get me to God. Some people might also say, well, other gods can get me to God too, right? Wrong. Artemis could not get the Ephesians to God. Neither can any other god or goddess on the planet. Why? Because there are no other gods. God sent his Son to die on the cross to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God. Is there any other atoning sacrifice for sins? No, there is no other atoning sacrifice for sins except Jesus Christ. So Jesus is the only Way to God.

Jesus is the truth. “What is truth?” said Pilate. Jesus is the truth: he is the standard of all that is perfect, righteous, just, good, wise, holy, and in Him we can see the truth about ourselves. Jesus reveals our sinfulness, our blindness and our weakness. He reveals our idolatry, our greed, lust, pride and covetousness. He shows us how to correct those things, and not only does he show us, but he actually cleanses us from our sins, and helps us to come out of a sinful pattern of living.

Jesus is the life. He’s not “A” life, but “THE” life. He gives us true life. He doesn’t turn us into mindless robots, or zombies, like the mob crying out for 2 hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” He gives us true freedom. By his resurrection from the dead he overcame the power of sin and death. In him we have this same power to overcome sin. We are no longer under the power of sin, and given the power of self control. We are free to live, and free to serve God. John 1:4 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” That life was the light of all mankind. We no longer live or walk in the darkness, but there is light in our lives! Jesus gives us hope. Jesus is our hope.

Demetrius tried to tempt and deceive the people. They believed his lies, and turned into an angry mob. But God was able to quiet the disturbance. Jesus is the Way, the truth and the life. Believe in him and you will find truth, and you will find hope. Satan and the world will always try to disturb the Way: to disturb Christ and those who are in Him, but take heart! Christ has overcome, and will always overcome. One day, He will put an end to all disturbances, and those who believe and trust in him for the forgiveness of their sins shall be eternally at rest and at peace in heaven forever.

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