I used to think the story of Demetrius was just about money. Nope. It was about a culture war brought on by the Kingdom.
By “the Kingdom” I mean God’s sovereign, saving reign through Jesus Christ who is Lord. God isn’t just forgiving sinners; he’s creating knew creatures in Christ, who, even now, live under Christ’s authority, anticipating God’s new, righteous creation.
What happens when that Kingdom invades an alien culture.
“Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome’. So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia” (Acts 19:21,22).
Paul invested two years in Ephesus contending. As a result, the Lord’s Word spread mightily through all Asia (Acts 19:1-20). Now Paul prepares to cross the Aegean for Macedonia and Achaia, then east to Jerusalem, and finally, he hopes, Rome.
BIG TROUBLE BREAK-OUT
With those plans in mind, preparing to leave Ephesus . . .
“About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23).
“ . . . no little disturbance”– the inevitable consequences of “the Way” invading a culture of another “way”.
“A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 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 will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her’” (Acts 19:24-27).
He’s a silversmith. He makes silver shrines of the goddess Artemis. Plaques, actually. Metal sheets. Dedicate them in the Great Temple of Artemis, and they become charms of protection against evil and danger. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a statuette of the goddess.
The business was a money-making machine for the craftsmen. But this stranger, this Jew preaching Messiah, claims handmade gods are no gods at all. Demetrius is afraid business may suffer. The Artemis-trade may fall into disrepute. Artemis’ temple may be disgraced. She may topple from majesty. Worldwide worship may go silent.
So the preaching of the Kingdom (“Jesus is Lord”) threatens the city’s economy . . . the religion of the city—indeed of all Asia . . . the worldview of hundreds of thousands . . . potentially opens the population to the powers of evil.
Artemis is mother goddess, fertility goddess and nature goddess. She holds power over animals and can deliver her worshippers from fear. She wields unsurpassed cosmic power. She was called Savior, Lord, Queen of the Cosmos and Heavenly Goddess. Each March or April Ephesus hosted a month-long festival in her honor. Worshippers flocked from all over the Roman Empire for offerings at her sacred grove, athletics, plays, concerts and banquets.
The Artemis cult produced Asia’s worldview, which in turn created certain social structures and lifestyles. Now, “the Way” threatens that culture to its core. Ephesus is in an uproar.
VIOLENT PROTESTS IN THE THEATER
“When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28-34).
The city’s theater holds anywhere from 12,000 to 24,000 (historical estimates), an arena for various citizens’ gatherings. Today it holds chaos. Confusion. Two of Paul’s men are grabbed and dragged in. Think TV video of Middle East riots. Even though author Luke tells us “Paul wanted to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him”, many think this is what Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 when he wrote . . .
“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”.
“But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:35-42).
The city clerk is the administrative assistant to the magistrates and liaison to the Roman authorities. He’s the cool head stepping into the crowd’s fury. And he succeeds. Not only is he able to quiet the crowd so he can speak. He dismisses them–and they apparently disperse. Anti-climactic. We can assume the Artemis cult continued, as did the Kingdom through the church
* * *
Demetrius was right. The gospel of the kingdom (Jesus is Lord!) Paul preached did inevitability threaten Ephesian economy, religion and worldview. Demetrius was no theologian. But he saw the sweeping consequences of “Jesus is Lord”.
Do we realize “Jesus is Lord” affects how we manage our money? What kind of work we do? (Nothing demanding dishonesty, for example.) How we practice religion? (We can’t compartmentalize it into “Sunday only”.) What worldview we choose? (It must be one that reverences Jesus as Lord over everything, from history to future outlook, to how we treat our husband/wife.) How and what we worship? (As important as it is, we can’t love money–or regard anyone or anything as valuable as Christ.)
“Lord” is an archaic term (except in Great Britain). So, when we say, “Jesus is Lord”, it sounds like religious jargon. If we said, “Jesus is President” or “Jesus is Premier” we’d be edging closer to “Lord’s” impact. Even better is to check out the English definition: “a person who has authority, power or control over others.” Except in Jesus’ case, the authority, power and control is absolute.
“Jesus is Lord!” Therefore, every knee will bow. And everything out of harmony with his reign will fall.
Demetrius was right. Can I hear an “Amen”?