Revival and Riot
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 6, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
Whenever the gospel is preached, it elicits two responses: revival and riot. Some, who are ordained to eternal life, are saved as they hear and receive the gospel. Others demonstrate their hostility against the kingdom of God by actively opposing those who proclaim the gospel. We find both these responses in this passage.
On his third missionary journey, Paul went to the great city of Ephesus in Asia Minor and preached the gospel there for three years. As a result, the whole province of Asia heard the word of the Lord and several churches were founded. Additionally, God performed unusual miracles through Paul during his time in Ephesus. Many sick people were healed and many demonized people had the demons cast out of them as cloths that had touched Paul were put upon them.
The power of Christ the King performed these wonders, transforming the lives of many people in Ephesus through the preaching of the gospel. The Ephesian Christians thoroughly repudiated their paganism and burned their books of magic and spells in a great bonfire. By the power and might of the Lord, as the word of God increased throughout the city, great fear fell upon people and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. The gates of hell could not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ in the city of Ephesus.
In response to this successful ministry, Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, determined to leave Ephesus after three years and to move on to preach the gospel in other parts of the Roman world. He planned to travel through Macedonia and Achaia, visit the churches there and take up a collection for the poor of Jerusalem. Then he desired to go to Jerusalem and see the church there, and from Jerusalem to travel to Rome and Spain to preach the gospel there.
What motivated Paul to make such ambitious plans? In Romans 1:13-6 Paul said he was eager to travel because he was obligated to preach to both Jews and Greeks the gospel which alone is the power of God unto salvation. So Paul made his plans, but before he was able to leave Ephesus, a great riot occurred.
The Cause of the Riot
The first thing I would like to examine is the cause of this great riot. Paul's ministry in Ephesus succeeded, in effect, in defeating the religion of Artemis. When many Ephesians became Christians, it signaled the triumph of the kingdom of Jesus Christ over the cult of Artemis, of which Ephesus was the center. The very success of Paul's ministry created a problem which, in turn, produced a great riot.
The Cult of Artemis
The Ephesian goddess Artemis was the pagan embodiment of fertility in nature. Symbolized by a grotesque, multi-breasted female figure which was housed in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Ephesian Artemis was not the fair and chaste huntress of Greek mythology; rather, she was an approximation of the Anatolian mother-goddess of fertility.
One can still see a representation of this Anatolian goddess in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Turkey today. The pagan Greeks said that the Ephesian image of Artemis fell from the sky, sent to them from heaven by Zeus himself. The image may have been a meteorite, or just some other type of large rock. But whatever it was, the image of Artemis at Ephesus was housed in the temple and served by high priests, who were eunuchs, and who were assisted by hundreds and hundreds of temple prostitutes.
The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. First built in the sixth century B.C., it was burned down by a young man, Herostratus, on the night Alexander the Great was born in 356 B. C. With gifts received from all over the world, the temple was rebuilt with great glory and splendor, finally measuring 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, over 60 feet high and adorned with 127 marble columns. This temple also functioned as a bank. Merchants, kings, and cities would deposit their gold and silver there because its safety was guaranteed by the goddess Artemis herself.
In 262 A.D. the Goths destroyed the temple again and it was not rebuilt. British archaeologist J. T. Wood excavated the site in 1863 and discovered the temple foundation twenty-five feet below ground level one and one half miles northeast of the modern village of Ephesus. Today a lone pillar marks the location of this formerly magnificent structure.
In Paul's day multitudes of worshipers from all over the world would come to Ephesus in the spring, probably in May, to celebrate the festival of Artemis, which was a wild, orgiastic event. The annual spring festival always brought great profit to the city of Ephesus. Besides providing food and lodging to devotees of Artemis, the city of Ephesus sold various products, such as miniature silver shrines with statuettes of Artemis inside, to the pilgrims. Area craftsmen worked all year to prepare for this sale, like some people do nowadays for Christmas. Pilgrims would buy their wares to use as votive offerings to goddess Artemis, as well as taking some home as souvenirs and to give to people as gifts.
The craftsmen of Ephesus made a good living from the Artemis religion. However, after Paul had been in Ephesus for three years, the leader of the craftsmen, Demetrius, noticed that sales of their products were plummeting. He did some research into this matter and realized that the cause of this economic downturn was the ministry of the apostle Paul. For five hours every day for two years, Paul had been teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of the city of Ephesus with great power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. Paul's ministry had a tangible result in the economic situation of Ephesus, and this became a problem.
Paul Preaches Against Idolatry
In Acts 19:25-26 the union leader, Demetrius, addressed the problem: "He called [the craftsmen] together along with the workmen in related trades and said, 'Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 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 man-made gods are no gods at all. 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 worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.'"
Here the pagan Demetrius was acknowledging that the kingdom of God was advancing with great power, not only in Ephesus but throughout the province of Asia. In fact, in verse 10 of Acts 19 we read that "This," meaning Paul's preaching and teaching, "went on for two years so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord."
The problem with Paul's preaching was that he was preaching against idolatry and encouraging people to serve the true and living God. Paul had preached a similar message earlier in the intellectual city of Athens, as we read in Acts 17:29-30. There he said, "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent." In other words, Paul was saying, all idolatry is ignorance, and God will judge such ignorance.
The Wickedness of Idolatry
What is the problem with idolatry? It is wickedness. Whether the idols are metal or mental, material or ideological, idolatry is wicked because it suppresses the truth concerning God's immortality, everlasting power and divine nature--truth known and understood by all people from the creation of the world. Idolatry is not just another form of piety or godliness. Idolatry is sheer rebellion against God and his truth. Idolatry is based on lies. Additionally, it is the worship of demons, according to Paul.
In Paul's letter to the Romans he spoke about idolatry. In Romans 1:21-3 he wrote that the pagans, "although they knew God . . . neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."
Isaiah spoke about idols and idol worship especially in chapters 44 and 46 of the book of Isaiah. But, first, in Isaiah 44:6 we read this statement about who God is: "This is what the Lord says--Israel's King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God." There ends all argument. All idolatry is negated, denied, by this one statement of God Almighty: "Apart from me there is no God."
In Isaiah 44:9-11 Isaiah describes idolaters: "All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy."
In verse 18 he speaks of the idols themselves: "They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand." And in verses 19-20 he concludes, "No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, 'Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?' He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, 'Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?'"
The problem with idolatry, therefore, is that it is worship of created things rather than worship of Creator, who is blessed forever. The word of God speaks against all forms of idolatry, and that what Paul preached also in Ephesus.
Demetrius Organizes a Riot
We can just imagine what happened at the meeting of Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen. I am sure when he stood up, he said something like this: "Men, I have discovered why our sales are down. It is all because of this fellow Paul. I have gone to some of his meetings and I can see clearly that it is his gospel which is changing the thinking and the buying habits of our fellow Ephesians. In fact, I would say that not only are their thoughts being changed, but their entire lives are transformed. These people are no longer worshiping Artemis or coming to our annual celebrations. They have stopped buying our silver shrines and have started publicly declaring, as Paul does, that idols are nothing.
"Brothers," Demetrius would continue, "this is an extremely serious situation. It looks like Jesus is winning and Artemis is losing. Hundreds and thousands of people in our city are following the way of Jesus as preached by Paul. What can we do? We must oppose this gospel which is emptying our pocketbooks and ruining the good lives we established for ourselves. We must get rid of Paul, even if it means killing him. We should have a citywide demonstration against him. We should stir up the masses--not, of course, by telling them about the money we are losing--but by talking about the impact of Paul's preaching on the glory of our great mother goddess Artemis. Let's appeal to their civic pride. We must show them that if Paul is allowed to continue preaching here, our city will lose its reputation as the keeper of the temple of Artemis and the magnificence of Artemis herself will be eroded."
That is, in essence, what we read in Acts 19:27. Demetrius said, "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 worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." "So let's have a riot, a demonstration," Demetrius urged the people, "to defend the majesty of Artemis."
The Economic Effects of the Gospel
It is true that preaching of the gospel affects people's pocketbooks, and this is not the first time that we encounter that idea in the book of Acts. When Paul was ministering in Philippi, there was a young slave girl who was making a lot of money for her owners by fortune-telling through an evil spirit. When Paul cast out the demon, the girl was delivered from the demon, but she also lost her fortune-telling ability. When her owners saw their investment disappear, they became extremely upset with Paul. In Acts 16:19-22 we read, "When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, 'These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.' The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas," and a riot ensued.
Let me assure you, the preaching of the gospel touches industries, corporations, and profits. And as long as we preach the gospel in the power of the Spirit, there will be demonstrations against it, which are really against Jesus Christ, by those who are adversely affected. Preaching of the gospel always results in salvation for some and opposition by others.
Christian preaching and the Christian life affects corporations. In Psalm 119:130 we read that the entrance of God's word gives light, meaning the lives of sinners will change when they receive the gospel. Certainly that will impact the profits of certain industries.
Imagine what would happen if there were a revival of Christianity in the world today. As millions of people became Christians, they would stop watching certain programming on television. You know what that would do. They would stop watching and buying pornography, which is now a $56 billion industry. They would stop consuming vast quantities of alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs. The abortion industry would certainly experience a downturn as people stop engaging in immorality and seek to have children only within the confines of marriage. The welfare budget would even go down because more people would want to work at whatever jobs they could find. The divorce rate and breakup of families would plummet as people began to live holy and pure lives which honor the biblical view of marriage. Even the sales of luxury items would be affected by such a revival.
Not only would economic systems be affected, but all other religions would be seriously affected by a worldwide revival. And all these factors would certainly produce a riot also--a worldwide demonstration against Jesus Christ. (PGM) Those who do not embrace Christianity and who experience these economic downturns will shout vehemently, "Jesus must go! Don't you see how bad the gospel is for us? We cannot survive while Christians are still alive."
Let me tell you, when we think about such things, we must confess that we are not living lives that would make such an impact upon our culture. But if we begin to do so, the culture itself will be changed by the gospel as is did in Ephesus.
The Riot of the Idol Worshipers
Fired up by Demetrius, the silversmiths left their meeting and moved angrily out onto the Arcadian Way, the main street which ran through the city of Ephesus. This magnificent boulevard was eleven meters wide, paved with marble and lined with marble columns. It ran from the harbor to the theater of Ephesus, which was located at the foot of Mount Pion.
The craftsmen's goal was the theater, which seated about twenty-five thousand people. As they went there, masses of people joined with them until there was a great procession of people who shouted as they walked, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" On their way to the theater the silversmiths tried to capture Paul and bring him in front of the people. They couldn't find him, so they seized Gaius and Aristarchus, ministers of the church of Ephesus, dragged them into the theater and placed them before the crowd, causing the crowd to shout even louder, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"
There was also a strong Jewish community in Ephesus at this time, but they, of course, also opposed Paul. They put one of their men, Alexander, before the crowd, intending that he would tell them, "Don't blame the Jews! We have nothing to do with this riot. This problem is caused only by Paul and his gospel preaching." But when the crowd found out Alexander was a Jew, they did not permit him to speak because Jews, like Christians, also did not worship idols. The pagans of Ephesus knew that Jews and Christians both believed in an invisible deity and were opposed to idolatry.
The mob gave vent to their irrational emotions, and for two hours shouted the slogan, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Someone once said, "The only thing paganism can do is shout itself to hoarseness." That is all idol-worshipers can do, when you really think about it.
In 1 Kings 18 we read about the futility of idolatry demonstrated in an encounter between Elijah, prophet of the true and living God, and the prophets of Baal. In verse 26 we read, "So [the prophets of Baal] took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon," which is longer than the Ephesians did. "'O Baal, answer us!' they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made." This was a very emotional demonstration. "At noon Elijah began to taunt them. 'Shout louder!' he said. 'Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.'" The prophets believed Elijah and tried harder to rouse their god. "So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed." This was their way of getting Baal's attention. But 1 Kings 18:29 tells us what happened: "But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention."
Let me tell you again, idolatry is a lie, it is wickedness, it is demon worship, it is slavery, and it is rebellion against God.
In Psalm 135:15-18 we read, "The idols of the nations are silver and gold." Isn't that true? The idol of all the nations is money--silver and gold. "The idols of nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them."
I know a woman who was raised in a society that worships idols. Even as a young girl this woman began asking the question, "How can a person take a stone and set it up as an idol? Did that stone somehow become God? Why should I worship a stone?" And in time, God in his great love saved this person and brought her to confess that Jesus Christ alone is God. He opened her eyes to see the utter futility of idolatry.
The Riot Calms Down
Finally, the mayor, or city clerk, a shrewd politician, was able to calm the crowd and bring them back to rationality. He said something like this: "Hey, don't worry. Everything is all right. All the world knows that Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of Artemis. Everybody knows that the image of Artemis was sent down from heaven to Ephesus. It is accredited by heaven itself." You see, this man had an interest in this situation, not because he cared about Artemis, but because he was in charge of the city. If there was a riot, he would have to answer for that before the Romans. Then he said, "If Demetrius has any legal reason to accuse anyone, let him do so legally. But this is an illegal assembly--it is mob action, really--and we cannot approve it. Then he gave the real reason, "In fact, we are in danger of being charged with rioting by our overlords, the Romans. And as you know, they will not tolerate disorder."
What happened as a result of the mayor's speech? Through God's own intervention Christianity was not made illegal, the riot fizzled out, and the people quieted down and went away. This attempt to oppose the gospel had failed.
The Intervention of God
This whole experience proved to be a difficult time for Paul. He had wanted to go into the theater and address the crowd but his own disciples and the prominent officials of the city prevented him, fearing that the mob would kill him. Then God intervened through the mayor of the city and Paul was set free.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 Paul spoke about this experience: "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so hat we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." You see, all the riots contribute to our growing in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "He has delivered us from such a deadly peril. and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope, that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many."
Paul had faced another riot earlier in Corinth, as we read in Acts 18, beginning with verse 12. The unbelieving Jewish community brought a case against Christianity before the proconsul Gallio. As he did in Ephesus, God intervened also in Corinth, and Gallio threw out the case against Paul. By so doing, Gallio declared that Christianity was not illegal, and it may even be that the mayor of the city of Ephesus knew of Gallio's judgment and chose also not to oppose Christianity.
If God opens the door for the preaching of the gospel, no one can shut it. Everyone who wants to live a godly life serving Jesus Christ must suffer persecution. A Christian will face opposition, demonstrations, and riots, but despite these things, God will save his people through the preaching of the gospel.
Didn't Jesus tell his disciples, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you"? These activities, as we have just studied, will result in problems. But he also promised, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:19-20). Additionally, he promised, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
In Isaiah 54:17 God promises, "'No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me." And in 2 Corinthians 10:4 Paul writes, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." That is why we preach about baptism in the Holy Spirit. We need God's power and supernatural weapons in our service for Christ.
By the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul succeeded in defeating Artemis, and if you go to Ephesus today, you will not hear anyone shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Why? Because no one worships Artemis anymore. Yes, other cults have taken the place of the cult of Artemis, but they also shall be finally defeated by Christ the King on the day of his final judgment. In Revelation 21:8 we read what will happen to those who worship other gods: "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery place of burning sulfur. This is the second death."
A Life-giving Riot
How can we be so confident that the gospel will always succeed? Because it is based on another riot.
A few years prior to the riot in the city of Ephesus, there was a riot in the city of Jerusalem. Pilgrims from all over the world had filled the Temple Mount, coming to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. They were told that there was a man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was blaspheming God by claiming that he was the Christ, the Son of God, and by saying that not only had he come down from heaven, but that he was also going back into heaven. They were told this Jesus claimed to be the sinless One--one greater than Solomon, Moses, and Abraham. In fact, they were told, he said, "Before Abraham was, I AM." They were told that he said he was the light of the world and the way, the truth and the life, the living bread and the living water. Not only that, they were told that he even asked people--sinners--to come to him and receive rest for their souls. They were told that he claimed to have the power to forgive sins, a power which only God has. And, finally, they heard that he claimed to be God: "I and my Father are one."
This Jesus irritated the Jews by refusing to keep the traditions of the elders and freely associating with sinners and publicans. He was very popular, but the Jewish authorities arrested him and tried him. Then they brought him before the governor of Rome to be tried, and it was there that this other riot began.
The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, wanted to let Jesus go, but the Jewish authorities did not want him released. In Matthew 27:15-16 we read, "Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas." And in verses 20-23 we read, "The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 'Which of the two do you want me to release to you?' asked the governor. 'Barabbas,' they answered. 'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!' 'Why? What crime has he committed?' asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!'" Then an uproar started and Pilate gave in to the crowd's desire.
As a result of this riot, Jesus Christ was crucified. After he died on the cross, he was buried and the authorities secured his tomb with a seal. But on the third day this Jesus rose from the dead, as he had promised in accordance with the Scriptures, and by his death and resurrection, he defeated death, hell, Satan, sin, demons, and all evil.
That is why I can say that Jesus Christ is Lord. Of the increase of his government there shall be no end. There is no one who can oppose the spread and triumph of the gospel.
What About You?
How have you responded to the preaching of the gospel? Let me assure you, if you have not confessed this Jesus Christ as Lord and surrendered your life to him, then you are still in your sins and you shall die that way. But he is still calling us, saying, "Come to me." Those who worship idols have to carry their idols, as we read in Isaiah 46. And an idol is heavy, especially if it is made of metal or wood. Carrying it is tiresome. But the true God, the real God, the Lord Jesus Christ, offers to give you rest as no one else can. Like a good shepherd who seeks his lost sheep, he will carry you on his shoulders and bring you home, where you will find rest, food, and an abundance of grace, as it says in John 1:16, "Of his fullness we all received grace upon grace." Therefore, I counsel you, by the mercies of God, to commit your life to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.
To those who are Christians, I say, "Christ defeated death, Christ defeated hell, Christ is King, Christ is Lord of all. So in the power of the Spirit of the living God, live transformed lives that people may come to know who we are, and be faithful to preach the gospel that will bring this transformation to others." When we do that, we will impact the culture for God and for the gospel, rather having the culture impact us and make us in its image.
Finally, never be afraid of a riot. Do not be afraid of opposition and persecution when you are living for Jesus Christ. What can man do to us? But, as Jesus himself said, fear him who is able not only to kill the body but also the soul. Trust in him who is Lord and Christ and King. Then you can face any opposition with the knowledge that "He who believes in me shall never die."
May God have mercy on us and help us to believe the gospel which alone is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. May we be filled with the Spirit and live transformed lives as the Ephesians did and impact our whole society for the good. May we be used for God's glory. Amen.
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Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
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