A CLASH OF WORLDVIEWS ACTS 19:21-41
Today there is a lot of talk about worldviews. Maybe you have heard of the term. The Christian thinker James W. Sire defines a worldview as "a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being." In other words, a worldview is a system of beliefs from which you make your decisions in life.
This past weekend Crysta and I went to a conference that spoke about worldviews. And one of the speakers shared some startling statistics. He stated that only 51% of today’s Protestant pastors had a biblical worldview and only 8% of Christians claim to have a biblical worldview. The definition of a biblical worldview was based on questions about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and sin. No wonder the church has no influence on the culture because those who claim to be Christian don’t even agree with what is in the Bible.
Well, in our passage, this morning, there is a clash of worldviews. And the world took notice of those who became believers. So in this text, I want to show you the world’s logic reported, the world’s folly revealed, and the world’s fury restrained.
THE WORLD’S LOGIC REPORTED – 23-27
In Ephesus the worship of the goddess centered on the Artemision, a week in the spring dedicated to the goddess. The highlight of the festivities was a solemn processional in which the image of the goddess was carried through the streets between the theater and the temple. Throughout the week there were numerous events, including ritual plays and dances. In former times the primary attendants of the goddess were self-emasculated priests, but there is some question whether the Romans allowed such practices in the cult of Paul’s day. Artemis worship was not confined to Ephesus. There was a sanctuary in Rome also and a similar festival there every April. All told there were at least thirty-three shrines to the mother goddess throughout the Roman Empire, and it was perhaps the most popular cult of all. Ephesus was considered to be the center of the cult, and pilgrims flocked from all over the empire to worship at its famous temple, especially during the spring Artemision. Economics and religion were closely bound. The temple received lavish votive offerings from the devotees of the mother goddess. In fact, so wealthy was it that it became the principal financial institution of Asia, receiving deposits and making loans.
Well the preaching of the gospel led many away from practicing this false faith. In fact, Luke said there was a huge uproar concerning the Way. Remember, the Way is another designation for Christians or people who followed Jesus Christ. Folks, Christianity ought to be a way of life for believers so this is why they are called the Way.
So here, in these verses, you have another clash between Christians and non-Christians. T. W. Manson once said something like, “These early disciples were completely fearless, outrageously happy, and constantly in trouble.” And Luke reports another incident of trouble for these early believers. In verse 24, Demetrius, a local silversmith, led the charge against the Christians. This is only the second incident where Gentiles opposed the early church. Most of the time it was the established religion of Judaism that opposed the early believers. But here it was a Gentile by the name of Demetrius, who led his trade guild to oppose the church.
Now I want you to notice his logic against the church. He cloaked his argument for his trade under the guise of piety. In fact, oftentimes religious piety becomes a thin cloak for personal economic interests. The temple of Artemis served as a bank as well as a temple and people from all over the world deposited funds there. Roughly a decade after Paul left it got so bad that the proconsul had to step in because of financial irregularities. Some of the temple monies were being funneled to private individuals.
So Demetrius a possible temple warden saw people turning away from buying the statues that he and some of the other silversmiths were making. He led a campaign against Paul and the church of Jesus Christ. Why? He had a business that was being greatly affected by people turning to Christ.
There were many worshipers of this false goddess. And the worshipers were both poor and rich. The poor would purchase terra cottas of the shrine to Artemis, while the rich purchased silver shrines. These small models of the temple with the statue of Artemis inside would be set up in the houses or even worn as amulets. So you can imagine that during this time of great festivities around April or May that they would do their most business. And Paul was cutting into their profits by turning people away from the false gods and on to the one true and living God.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century in England, an ostensibly Christian nation, the Salvation Army underwent terrible persecution because their Christianity touched the pocketbooks of society. Richard Collier, historian of the Salvation Army, says the attacks were led by publicans and brothel-keepers, and these antagonists organized the “Skeleton Army.” When the Skeleton opened subscription lists, brewers and publicans weighed in generously . . . one saloon keeper offered 1,000lbs. They took their name from skull-and-crossbones banners they adopted, inscribed with strange legends – gorillas, rats, even Satan himself.
R. Kent Hughes, in his commentary, wrote, “If the professing Christian church today were to undergo the repentance and new life experienced by the Ephesians’ church and faithfully live out the implications of such faith, the wrath of this world would soon fall upon it. Why? True Christianity calls for a spirit of sacrifice, even financially, but our pleasure-seeking, hedonistic economy rests on a hoped-for profit margin, even if it is only a single percentage point. Monetary gain is seen as the highest good, and when that is threatened by commitment to Christ . . .
Imagine what would happen if because of repentance and the urging of the Holy Spirit Christians stop watching certain television programs. The pollsters would detect a rating decline and convey the findings to the sponsor, and that would be the end of those programs. Then would come the Demetrius like rage of prominent TV producers. Or imagine what would happen if 10 or 20% fewer Christians attended R-rated movies. Money is the bottom line!
Today the church is clothed with dead leaves of materialism and sensuality. A majority of Christian believers have been desensitized to the lures and poisons of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Multitudes within the professing church are not only thoroughly infatuated with the charms of Mammon but are practicing sensualists who enjoy the most degrading entertainment, without any remorse whatsoever.
Today, many believers’ witness is anemic and corrupted. Much of the church is clamoring to get on the world’s bandwagon. Christianity sells – so give people a gospel Grammy, or add a gospel number to the concert to balance out the repertoire and appease Christian critics. But it is impossible to be filled with the Spirit and set our minds on things below. It is impossible to be filled with the Spirit and live for the dollar. It is impossible to be filled with the Spirit and watch a drama that feeds the base appetites of the flesh.
So Paul and these early believers were filled with the Spirit and the love of God that it became contagious to those around them. They weren’t set on shutting down an industry through political savvy, but were genuinely living out their faith without compromise before a world that is darkened to the truth of the gospel. And this lifestyle brought them into trouble with the establishments of the world that brought profit to themselves because they sold goods that appealed to the flesh and body. When their customers heard and saw a different approach to life, they changed sides. So we see the world’s logic reported. Next,
THE WORLD’S FOLLY REVEALED – 28-34
In these verses, Luke shows the folly of the world. In verse 28, a mob was gathered by Demetrius’ speech which stirred them to outrage against Paul and they began to cry out “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Benjamin Franklin said that a mob was “a monster with heads enough, but no brains.” In other words, they formed a mob and cried out continuously. In their immoral style of worship, these worshipers would usually chant this phrase before committing an indecent act of immorality.
The crowd filled the city with great confusion over what they were opposing. So they rushed in one accord down to the theater with this mob-like action. The theatre (amphitheatre) at Ephesus can still be traced in the ruins (Wood, Ephesus) and shows that it was of enormous size capable of seating fifty-six thousand persons (some estimate it only 24,500). It was the place for large public gatherings of any sort out of doors like our football and baseball parks. In particular, gladiatorial shows were held in these theatres. So a huge mob gathered in the theater with most of them not knowing why they gathered. They were there because a crowd was there.
Luke said they gathered a couple of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus. After all, the mob needed a couple of gladiators for their show, so they might have grabbed these two men after not being able to secure Paul. The crowd may have recognized these men who associated with Paul or they went down to where Paul was staying and they refused to turn Paul over. Whatever the case, the mob had these two men in their custody.
Now Paul was fearless and desired to go down to the crowd but some friends and public officials Asiarchs would not let him. Each province had assigned guys from the Roman government. In other words, the province was the Roman province and so the Romans would send in some guys to kind of run the province. They had really two responsibilities. They were to promote the worship of Rome or allegiance to Rome and the worship of the emperor. They were Roman PR men. They were to get those people to subscribe to Rome and worship the emperor. Now they were named by whatever province they were in. If they were in Galatia, they were called Galatarcs. If they were in Syria, they were called Syriarcs. If they were in Macedonia, they were called Macedoniarcs. If they were in Asia, they were called Asiarcs.
We know that Paul was a man’s man. In Lystra after Paul was revived following his stoning, he got up and started walking right back into the city. In Philippi he was miserable after his beating that he began to sing. Now here in Ephesus he was like an immovable rock in a stormy sea – peace in the midst of hateful turmoil. Paul stood in the tradition of Daniel – scratching the lions’ tummies until daybreak – and of David – “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
So Paul’s friends resisted the pressure by Paul to go to the crowd. The more he insisted the more they refused to let him go and finally they won. So the mob had no idea for why they gathered in the theater.
The Jews became frightened that the crowd would turn on them because they opposed idolatry also. So they pushed Alexander in front of the crowd to let them know that they are not the reason for this outrage. Now who this Alexander is we are not sure. He might have been the Alexander mentioned twice in Paul’s letters to Timothy. That Alexander was a coppersmith and caused Paul much evil. So Alexander stood before the crowd to quiet them down. He motioned with his hand, but when they recognized that he was a Jew, they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
It sounds crazy to yell in a theater for two hours but that is what this mob did. Now, you might think that is stupid, but isn’t stupid of people after their favorite team wins a championship to go to the streets and burn things. Or go to the streets with bricks and rocks to break windows. Or go to the street with spray cans and paint something. Or go to the streets with the intention of turning over cars. Well, these people had none of those things so they stood in a stadium and screamed for two hours. Mobs do crazy things and that is what this crowd did in Ephesus.
When worldviews clash the world’s logic is reported, the world’s folly is revealed, and
THE WORLD’S FURY RESTRAINED – 35-41
These verses show the sovereignty of God over the entire situation. God was at work to keep his apostle alive and the gospel to continue to be proclaimed. We need to remember that when all seems lost, that God is at work and is aware of the situation we find ourselves in. Well, I have never been a part of a riot or the cause of a riot but other Christians have like Paul.
Hudson and Maria Taylor’s harrowing experience in Yangchow, China, when an angry, drunk mob attacked their house and tried to set fire to it, and it doesn’t sound enjoyable (see Roger Steer, J. Hudson Taylor [OMF], pp. 217-224)! Somehow God miraculously spared them and their children from permanent injury and death, although Maria, who was six months pregnant, had to jump out of a second story window to escape.
God’s sovereignty was a part of getting Paul out of this situation. In verse 21, Paul had a desire to pass through Macedonia and Achaia to collect from the saints there an offering they had taken up for the saints in Jerusalem. So he was going to Jerusalem with this offering to deliver to the saints there. Then he was going to make it to Rome.
Here he feels the necessity of going as in Rom. 1:15 he feels himself “debtor” to all including “those in Rome” (verse 16). Paul had long desired to go to Rome (Rom. 1:10), but had been frequently hindered (1:13), but he has definitely set his face to go to Rome and on to Spain (15:23–29). Rome had a fascination for Paul as the home of Aquila and Priscilla and numerous other friends (Rom. 16), but chiefly as the capital of the Roman Empire and a necessary goal in Paul’s ambition to win it to Jesus Christ. His great work in Asia had stirred afresh in him the desire to do his part for Rome. He wrote to Rome from Corinth not long after this and in Jerusalem Jesus in vision will confirm the necessity (δει [dei]) that Paul see Rome (Acts 23:11).
As we continue to study the rest of this book through the summer, we will discover that Paul makes it to Rome. He was arrested in Jerusalem, imprisoned for two years, shipwrecked in Malta, bitten by a serpent and survived and eventually made it to Rome to preach the gospel at least to the imperial guard. So Paul achieved his goal through the sovereignty of God.
Luke shows God’s working in this riot in Ephesus by allowing a city clerk to stand up and quiet the crowd. Alexander may not have been able to seize the crowd’s attention. The town clerk, however, had no difficulty quieting the commotion. He was the chief administrative officer of the city. He presided over both the council of city magistrates and the public assembly and was the liaison officer between the city and the Roman provincial administration. His main concern was that the disturbance would make an adverse impression on the Roman officials, possibly leading to restrictions on their self-governing privileges. In order to pacify the crowd, he began by assuring them that Artemis was under no real threat (v. 35). “Doesn’t 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?” What earthly power could threaten her? The clerk’s reference to an “image … from heaven” probably meant a meteorite. Meteorites were often associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess. The most famous of these was the sacred stone taken from Pessinus to Rome in 204 b.c. A meteorite also seems to have been associated with the cult of the Taurian Artemis. Although there is no evidence beyond this text for such a sacred stone being connected with the Ephesian cult, it is altogether likely that one existed, given this common association of the mother goddess with a “stone from heaven.”
Having assured the Ephesians that their cult was in no real danger, the clerk then dealt with the legal ramifications of the riot. He first pointed out that the two Christians whom they had seized were not guilty of any crime. They had not blasphemed the goddess or robbed the temple (v. 37). Probably by the latter was meant that they had not robbed the temple of the respect due it. If there was any illegality involved, it was not on the part of the Christians but rather of the Ephesians. They were running the risk of being charged with unlawful assembly.
The clerk then outlined the two primary legal avenues Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen could follow if they had any grievances against the Christians. There was the provincial court conducted by the Roman proconsul on set days (v. 38). There was also the regular town assembly (ekklēsia, v. 39). This mob might represent more than the usual turnout for a regular meeting of the dēmos in the theater, but this was not a regular day for the town meeting and was certainly not being conducted in an orderly fashion.
The clerk then clinched his argument. The Ephesians were running the danger of being charged with insurrection, since they really had no legally valid basis for their unruly behavior (v. 40). A subtlety occurs in the text at this point. A rather rare word occurs in vv. 27, 40, the verb meaning to be in danger, to be running a risk (kindyneuō). In v. 27 Demetrius argued that Paul was a danger to Ephesus. In v. 40 the clerk clarified where the real danger lay—not from Paul but from the unruly Ephesians. The clerk’s counsel carried the day. He dismissed the gathering, and the crowd dispersed.
So when two worldviews collide, the world’s logic is reported, the world’s folly revealed, and the world’s fury restrained. But before we close this morning, I want to draw at least two applications from this text.
First, notice that the world did not stand up and pay attention to these groups because they picketed in front of the temple of Artemis. Neither do you see them boycotting the sale of the goods that this false religion had to offer. Now there are times when we as Christians must stand up and take a stand against the evils of the world. There maybe even good reasons to boycott certain things. But when worldviews collide the world is not won by picketing or laws made or even boycotting.
The world is won to Christ by the second application I want to give you this morning and that is the church doing what the church is called to do. These early believers were living out the truth of the word before a lost and dying world. And their transformation won the hearts of those who were lost. Would the world take notice of the church if it was just living out the commitment they claim to make? Would the world be convicted of their sins because of Christians living in grace? Would the church cause a disturbance in the United States? How about we start here in Sylacauga and see what happens?