GETTING THE MESSAGE/Children of Christ, heirs of a King
In this passage Paul’s ministry in Ephesus is drawing to a close. While he was making his future plans, “there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:21-23). The “Way” refers to the Christian faith- what faith in Christ means, the way of thinking, living, and following the Lord Jesus. This includes a renunciation of idols.
A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines to the goddess Artemis, gathers together other workmen who made a living in similar trades. Ephesus was the location of the great temple of Artemis, and people from all over the known world visited the temple. It generated a lot of business. Demetrius explains to the tradesmen why their sales are slipping.
A man named Paul is teaching people that gods made with hands are no gods at all (verse 26). Demetrius’ primary argument was economic, but he also tells the people the reputation of Artemis is at stake. She is being “counted as nothing,” and this degradation of her may spread throughout the world.
The response of the crowd is anger, and the anger spills over to the whole city to such an extent that an unruly mob is formed, shouting, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus.” They grab two of Paul’s friends, Gaius and Aristarchus, and make their way to the colosseum. Paul wanted to speak, but the disciples prevented him, knowing that a mob would not be tolerant or rational.
The scene is so chaotic the town clerk or chief authority comes and addresses the people. He quiets them by assuring them of the stability of Artemis, also warning them that the Roman government is not going to be pleased with a riot. He tells them to resort to the courts if they have any issues and then dismisses them (verses 35-41).
The point of the story is to teach us the plague that idolatry is to man and, by contrast, the blessedness of Christ returning us to the glory of the living God. Idolatry is the root sin of our fallen, corrupt nature. It is forsaking of the true, living God for false gods we form in our own image. It is reversal of the order of creation, worshipping the creature instead of the Creator.
Idols come in countless forms; they aren’t all totem poles or silver shrines. What they have in common is they elevate man above God. The people in Athens, thinking themselves wise, worshipped Athena, a goddess of wisdom. The people in Corinth had Aphrodite, a goddess of sexual immorality. Artemis, the goddess in Ephesus, was supposed to be a goddess of fertility and life.
Idols men form are never holy gods. Rather, they are permissive, allowing men to think of God how they want him to be, how to fit him into their desires or ambitions rather than worshipping him as God and conforming to his ways.
Modern philosophers often say you cannot argue from a visible creation to an invisible God. But the Apostle Paul in Romans one says men suppress truth of creation because they refuse to honor God. Instead, they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and served the creature rather than the Creator (Roman 1:21-15). And such an exchange we have all made. It’s called sin.
This forsaking of God displeases God. It is not only foolish; it manifests itself in all forms of ingratitude and evil. It is to leave God to serve the evil one, denying the truth of God fiercely like the mob scene the Lord showed us in Ephesus. What is that but the devil’s work?
The good news is Christ came to turn us from the power of the devil to the power of God. The gospel is the power of God for salvation. Christ, the righteous One, was forsaken on the cross by God to atone for our sin and idolatry. He is the light of the world, pointing us to the blessedness, love, and glory of the living God. His light dispels the darkness of idolatry.
When we cease to resist God and suppress his wonders, we see what a mighty work Christ did to restore us to peace with God. God is the proper object of our love. He is one with whom communion is possible; we can admire his attributes and delight in his excellences.
It is a great pity that there should be one as Christ Jesus, so incomparable in infinite love and majesty, and so many to refuse him. There is none who can bless your soul but Christ. In Christ we say to God, “My Father,” and he says to us, “My child.”
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.