The gospel powerfully disrupts the city.
Luke, what are you doing? Why are you spending so much time writing to a mostly Christian audience about the way the gospel disrupted life in Ephesus? The likely answer is the big idea of Acts 19:21-40: The gospel powerfully disrupts the city. Luke recounts Paul’s final moments in Ephesus with great detail, I believe, because he wants to motivate and prepare all Christians, including us, to take the gospel into our world. Be motivated and prepared to take the gospel into the world that the Lord has called you to and placed you in; your family, your neighborhood, your school, your work place. As we press into the details of Acts 19:21-41, we’ll learn two concrete implications for our lives that flow from the reality that the gospel powerfully disrupts the city: 1. Be motivated to share it. 2. Be prepared for opposition.
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
ESV Study Bible
“What are you doing?” It’s a simple question that in my six years of parenting I’ve asked more times than I can count. Sometimes I ask the question in moments of disbelief, like when Sage stops up the sink so that she can deliberately flood the bathroom floor. “Sage, what are you doing?!” “Just cleaning, daddy.” Is that right? Sometimes I ask the question in moments of amazement, like a while back when I heard Soren reading a book out loud to himself for the first time. “Soren, what are you doing?” “Just reading my books to myself, daddy.” When in the world did he learn to do that?! “What are you doing?” This question has taken on new meaning for me ever since Citylight began the year long journey through the Acts that we’ll complete at the end of the summer. Acts was written by Luke, a physician, historian, and ministry partner of the Apostle Paul. When studying and preparing to teach Acts, one of the most important questions that I keep asking as I read and reread the text is, “Luke, what are you doing?” It’s not enough to simply observe what Luke says. I want to know what Luke is doing. Of all the historical events Luke could have included, why this one and what was he hoping his original readership would think, feel, and do in light of what he wrote. “Luke, what are you doing?”, is a very important Bible study question. For example, what was Luke hoping his, mostly Christian, readers would think, feel, and do in light of his recounting of the riot at Ephesus in our passage today? Well, let’s remember what Paul has done in Ephesus so far. Paul stayed in Ephesus for over two years evangelizing non-Christians and discipling Christians. The results are stunning; everyone in the region hears the word of the Lord, the gospel. Now in this final scene in Ephesus, we learn that the gospel has not only reached wide, but it has drilled so deeply into the city that the entire economic system that revolved around the temple and worship of the goddess Artemis is threatened. As a result, those who profit from the idol temple furiously oppose Paul. This brings us back to our question: Luke, what are you doing? Why are you spending so much time writing to a mostly Christian audience about the way the gospel disrupted life in Ephesus? The likely answer is the big idea of Acts 19:21-40: The gospel powerfully disrupts the city. Luke recounts Paul’s final moments in Ephesus with great detail, I believe, because he wants to motivate and prepare all Christians, including us, to take the gospel into our world. Be motivated and prepared to take the gospel into the world that the Lord has called you to and placed you in; your family, your neighborhood, your school, your work place. As we press into the details of Acts 19:21-41, we’ll learn two concrete implications for our lives that flow from the reality that the gospel powerfully disrupts the city: 1. Be motivated to share it. 2. Be prepared for opposition.
BE MOTIVATED TO SHARE IT
Acts 19:23-27 – About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. [socially cohesive movement, a movement arising out of and grounded in their shared faith in Jesus] 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 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. 27 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.” In these verses, Luke shows us just how powerfully disruptive the gospel really is when it drills down deep into a city, even a city as glamorous as Ephesus. Let’s set the scene. At the very heart of a civic, religious, and economic life in Ephesus was the temple devoted to the worship of the goddess Artemis. The temple was an impressive and massive complex. The entire edifice was elaborately adorned in brilliant colors and gold leaf. The altar area was 20 feet square and contained a massive image of the goddess with with animals and birds decorating her head and lower body and numerous breasts from her waist to her neck. The animals and breasts were symbolic of her status as the ancient Asian Mother Goddess. She was named Artemas because she was said to make her people “artemas,” that is, safe and sound. This temple grew so wealthy that it became the main financial institution of Asia, receiving deposits and making loans (Polhill). Entire industries grew up around the temple to Artemis and provided wealth to the city. This is somewhat similar to the wealth that comes to the construction industry, the restaurant industry, and merchandising industry when a new football stadium is built. People throughout the region of Asia would travel to worship at the temple and would then purchase silver shrines, or replicas, of the temple and Artemis. And all of that is disrupted when Paul preaches the gospel and persuades more and more people slowly over time that gods made with hands are not gods. As the gospel transformed individual after individual and family after family, less and less people were willing to take part in the temple rituals and spend their money on its industry. The gospel was powerfully disruptive as it turned more and more people from idols made by hands to the maker of all things. As a result, Demetrius the silversmith who leads the industry that produces shrines of Artemis is deeply disturbed because the gospel that Paul preaches is disrupting his income and great wealth. So, Demetrious gathers all of the workmen in his trade and stirs them up into a frenzy about the danger that they all face because the gospel preached by this no name man named Paul, the gospel we believe and love today, is powerfully disruptive.
Question: Do you believe that the gospel is powerfully disruptive? If so, then you have every reason to be motivated to speak it and drill it deeply into the lives of those around you. Let the powerfully disruptive nature of the gospel motivate you to take the gospel, day after day, month after month, year after year, into the world that God has called you to and placed you in. Be motivated, the gospel was wildly disruptive in Ephesus and it can be powerfully disruptive today. What happened in Ephesus through the gospel is possible today! Imagine the gospel turning more and more hearts to worship the real God rather than sex! The exploitations of the strip club, porn, sex trafficking, and abortion industries could be bankrupted in Philadelphia. Imagine the gospel turning more and more hearts to worship the real God rather than the idol of money! The greed below underhanded business practices that destroy people could be abandoned. Imagine the gospel turning more and more people to consider the interests of others above their own. The horrors of racial injustice could die a thousand deaths as people are moved by mercy to do mercy and seek justice. Friends, it’s disruptive power of the gospel that slowly over time eroded the violence of the Roman coliseum and the horrors of the African slave trade. It’s this powerfully disruptive gospel that you take into your home, workplace, school, and social circles every day. Be motivated. Keep praying. Keep loving. Keep speaking. Keeping bringing people into the life of our church. Let the powerfully disruptive gospel motivate you beyond fear or cynicism to take the gospel into your world. Luke has a second reason why you should be motivated and prepared to the gospel into your world…
BE PREPARED FOR OPPOSITION
Acts 19:28-36: When they heard this [when the craftsman heard from Demetrius that Paul’s gospel was disrupting their very livelihood] they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 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. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 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. 33 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. 34 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!” 35 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? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. After Demetrius tells the all the craftsman that the gospel is powerfully disrupting their wealth and religion, they’re furious. Aren’t we all, when the created things that we look to for hope and happiness, significance and security are disrupted? So, these Ephesians do what we all do when our sources of security and identity are threated, they’re enraged, and they drag some of Paul’s companions into the massive outdoor theatre in Ephesus. A riot is about to ensue. Since the gospel is powerfully disruptive, it’s also powerfully opposed. A Jewish man named Alexander tries to get up on the stage and speak to the growing mob, probably to make clear that those disruptive Christians aren’t Jewish, but he’s shouted down. Then the town clerk, the chief administrative officer of the city who served as a liaison between the people and the Roman officials, shows up. He’s no friend to the Christians. He reassures the crowd that Artemis is too powerful to be threatened by Paul and his crew. After all, the sacred stone, the head of Artemis, fell down from the sky. Therefore, the mob should quiet down, trust in Artemis’ power, and avoid upsetting the Roman officials. The interesting thing is that Demetrius and his crew and the town clerk is that they’re the same. They both powerfully oppose the gospel. Demetrius and his crew oppose the gospel by attacking it. The town clerk opposes the gospel by dismissing it. They powerfully oppose the gospel in different ways for the same reason: the love of money. The reason Demetrius is inciting a riot is the same reason why the clerk is trying to disperse it; neither wants the flow of money and security to slow. As Jesus said, no one can serve two masters. No one can serve both God and money. These men all serve money and so they powerfully oppose the gospel. In our day, money and the significance, security, identity, hope, and happiness that it promises but cannot deliver is still one of the chief of all idols. And so, today, the gospel is powerfully opposed.
Question: Do you expect the gospel to be powerfully opposed? If so, then be prepared. Be prepared. I believe that what Luke is doing in Acts 19 is raising our expectations concerning the gospel; raising our expectations for both the way that it powerfully disrupts and is, therefore, powerfully opposed. If you expect the gospel to be powerfully opposed, then you will be prepared for opposition rather than derailed by it. If you expect the gospel to be powerfully opposed, then when opposition comes, you’ll say, “good. I expected this. This is what happens when the real gospel drills down deeply. This opposition may hurt, but I am going to evangelize and disciple anyway.” The gospel will be powerfully opposed even as it powerfully disrupts. Expect it. Be prepared. Press on for the glory of Christ in our generation.
Before we close, I want to get practical: “I’m motivated for this and I’m prepared for what comes.”
As powerfully disruptive as Paul’s gospel was, it seems that Artemis won the day. In Acts 20, Paul leaves Ephesus to never return and within years Paul is dead, but Artemis and her temple still stood. It seemed as though the opposition had won the day. But looks can be deceiving. The living and abiding word of the gospel outlived Paul because it’s the gospel of the risen Lord Jesus. And the gospel kept disrupting and kept disrupting like yeast permeating through a lump of dough. By the 5th century, through the disruptive power of the gospel, Artemis’ temple closed and her worship died out. Why is the gospel so powerfully disruptive to the Artemis’ of the world? Jesus is greater than Artemis. Artemis’ head fell from heaven, but the Lord Jesus came down from heaven, took on flesh, and lived among us. Artemis was served by human hands. The Lord Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the sin of many. Artemis’ statue is now buried in the ground, but the Lord Jesus rose and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Artemis was fashioned by hand but the Lord Jesus is the one for whom and through whom the universe exists. Artemis’ temple is long gone, but the temple of the Lord Jesus Christ, his body, the church is alive and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. Will you turn from trusting in any created thing for your hope and happiness, significance and security and worship and receive the crucified and resurrected Jesus with the empty hands of faith? The gospel is powerfully disruptive and powerfully opposed, but it will one day finally triumph. Be motivated and prepared to take the gospel into your world.