Quieting the Opposition to Christianity — Acts 19:21-41

What must it be like to be in the midst of a riot??  Especially when the frenzy of the crowd is directed against you?  Paul’s traveling companions in Ephesus found themselves in just such a predicament.  We will look at how they got there and how God in His Providence extricated them from that mad mob.  The closest we come is watching on TV some political demonstration in another country where the crowd is burning the American flag and cursing our country – not a place where we would want to be.

We have talked many times about how conflict will inevitably arise wherever the gospel is faithfully preached.  The point of today’s narrative from the city of Ephesus seems to be that

OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY STRUGGLES TO FIND ANY LEGITIMATE AVENUE OF ATTACK

There should really be no legitimate legal recourse against the gospel message since we are not advocating the advance of the kingdom of heaven by the overthrow of existing political regimes.  We are counting on God to change the hearts of individuals and for social reform to then occur as people walk in the light and renounce their former sinful practices.

TRANSITION   (:21-22)  STRATEGIC PLANNING — GEOGRAPHIC MINISTRY GOALS:  LONG TERM PLANS AND IMMEDIATE FOCUS – COMMITMENT TO MINISTRY

A.  (:21)  Long Term Plans

1.  (:21a)  Visit Jerusalem

Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there,’

MacArthur: Now Paul always was making plans. Paul was a master strategist.

Alford: “purposed in the spirit” – an expression mostly used by St. Paul; see Rom. 1:9; 8:16; 12:11; 1 Cor. 2:4; 5:3-4;14:14

Acts 9 – saints in Jerusalem were not always so excited to hear that Paul wanted to visit!  What a dramatic conversion the Lord had accomplished in his life.

Kent: The epistles reveal that one of his reasons for going to Jerusalem was to deliver the collection from the churches (1 Cor. 16:1-3; also Acts 24:17). . .  It can be questioned whether Paul’s own spirit or the Holy Spirit is meant in 19:21.  However, for the Christian the two should be in harmony, and nothing here indicates that Paul was planning contrary to the leading of the Lord.

Barclay: The church in Jerusalem was poor; and Paul aimed to take a collection from all his Gentile churches as a contribution to it . . .  Paul pressed on with this scheme for two reasons.  First, he wished in the most practical way to emphasize the unity of the Church.  He wished to demonstrate that they belonged to the body of Christ and that when one part of the body suffered all must help.  In other words, he wished to take them away from a merely congregational outlook and to give them a vision of the one universal Church of which they were part.  Second, he wished to teach them practical Christian charity.  Doubtless when they heard of the privations of Jerusalem they felt sorry.  He wished to teach them that sympathy must be translated into action.

Guzik: Luke doesn’t mention it here, but we know that one reason why Paul wanted to go through Macedonia and Achaia, then to Jerusalem was to collect and deliver a fund he had been collecting from other churches to help out the church in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-31; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

2.  (:21b)  Visit Rome

I must also see Rome.

Stott: he was even dreaming of Spain, the most westerly outpost of Roman civilization in Europe.  His vision had no limits.

Rackham: The purpose of S. Paul, which coincided with the will of God, was achieved; but, as in other cases, the means by which he was brought to Rome were far different from what he had wished or arranged. Thus we have presented to us a typical instance of divine overruling of human plans, but to the achievement of one and the same end

B.  (:22)  Immediate Focus

And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

1 Cor. 16:8-9  But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

Learn some important truths here about opposition to Christianity – not covering all aspects of this topic – but those lessons we can learn from Paul’s experience in Ephesus

THE MOTIVATION FOR OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY

THE MOB MENTALITY SURROUNDING OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY

THE MISREPRESENTATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY

I.  (:23-27)  THE MOTIVATION FOR OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY —

THE REASON FOR THE RIOT — IT’S ALL ABOUT THE INCOME AND THE INFLUENCE — CONFLICT IN EPHESUS

WHY DO PEOPLE OPPOSE THE GOSPEL MESSAGE?

A.  (:23-26)  The Income Motivation – Don’t want to lose money

And about that time there arose no small disturbance concerning the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, ‘Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business.  And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all.’

Artemis = Goddess of fruit – pictured as a woman with many breasts

Gospel was threatening earthly treasures

B.  (:27)  The Influence Motivation – Don’t want to lose power

And not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.

Constable: The temple of Artemis was a source of civic pride to the Ephesians. In view of Ephesus’ commercial decline, it is easy to see how the silversmiths’ protest could have so quickly aroused popular opposition to the Christian missionaries. This was a case of mob violence; many of the protesters did not understand what the issue was. A major boulevard, the Arcadian Way, ran from the harbor to the theater, and it was probably this artery that the ringleaders used to collect citizens on their march to the theater.

Gospel was threatening earthly gods

Kent: The image within the temple was of a woman carved with many breasts to signify the fertility of nature.  It was reputed to be so ancient that the tradition arose that it had fallen from heaven (19:35).  Perhaps it was originally made from a meteorite.

Stott: either miniature models of the temple or statuettes of the goddess

Barclay: when pilgrims came to Ephesus, they liked to take souvenirs home

Change in pagan society did not come about by political movement or even by moral outcry; but by the preaching of the gospel and changed lives

II.  (:28-34)  THE MOB MENTALITY SURROUNDING OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY —

THE RAGE ASSOCIATED WITH THE RIOT — BLIND LOYALTY TO IDOLATRY – CHAOS IN EPHESUS

9 Characteristics of a Mob Mentality:

(Similar to how the media attacks Christianity today

A.  (:28a)  Anger

And when they heard this and were filled with rage,

B.  (:28b)  Backlash

they began crying out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’

C.  (:29a)  Confusion

And the city was filled with the confusion,

D.  (:29b)  Frenzy

and they rushed with one accord into the theater,

Theater was a public venue with seating capacity that could contain thousands and be used for a variety of purposes

E.  (:29c)  Scapegoat Targeting

“dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia.

Their issue was more with Paul as the leader; but they were happy to target any of his close associates as well

F.  (:30-31)  Volatile Atmosphere

And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. And also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater.

There would be no reasoning with such a mob; Paul was courageous to want to engage them in dialogue; but cooler heads prevailed and recognized the powder keg situation that would only be intensified by the appearance of Paul

Barnes: Asiarchs. These were persons who presided over sacred things, and over the public games. It was their business to see that the proper services of religion were observed, and that proper honour was rendered to the Roman emperor in the public festivals, at the games, etc. They were annually elected, and their election was confirmed at Rome before it was valid. They held a common council at the principal city within their province, as at Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, etc., to consult and deliberate about the interests committed to their charge in their various provinces. . .

There was a general prejudice against the Jews. They were disposed to charge the whole difficulty on Jews– esteeming Christians to be but a sect of the Jews. They were, therefore, indignant and excited, and indiscriminate in their wrath, and unwilling to listen to any defence.

G.  (:32)  Incoherent Noise

So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and the majority did not know for what cause they had come together.

Guzik: “The noise must have been deafening. The acoustics of the theater are excellent even today and at that time were even better because of bronze and clay sounding vessels placed throughout the auditorium.” (Williams)

H.  (:33)  Squelched Dialogue

And some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.

S. Lewis Johnson: Alexander = the Jewish man who is put forward by the Jewish interests in the city of Ephesus in order to plead their case and to be sure that the people make no mistake about who the real enemy is; it’s Paul and his followers and not the Jewish people.  Because, after all, Paul and his friends were largely Jewish people and the Ephesians might think it’s really the Jewish people as a whole that they are to fight.

I.  (:34)  Rallying Cry

But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’

But people had no interest in supporting the cause of the Jews – lumped them together with the Christians as seen by this rallying cry

III.  (:35-41)  THE MISREPRESENTATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH OPPOSITION TO CHRISTIANITY —

THE RATIONAL PLEA FOR ABANDONING THE RIOT — GET A GRIP – CALMING IN EPHESUS

God uses these misrepresentations to frustrate opposition and in His providential sovereignty to relieve the pressure of persecution at times; even the opponents of Christianity cannot find a legitimate foothold for criticism and political judgment

A.  (:35-36)  Christianity Poses No Real Threat to the City of Ephesus and the Temple of the Great Artemis

And after quieting the multitude, the town clerk said, ‘Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven? Since then these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash.’

S. Lewis Johnson: Now, the town clerk was the secretary.  He was the chief magistrate of this free society.  He drafted the decrees of the city of Ephesus.  He controlled the money, he controlled the assembly, under the proconsuls, which were Roman.

This turns out to be false counsel – note that Artemis is not worshipped anymore and Christianity has emerged victorious

Stott: the crowd’s frenzy was calmed by the city clerk, who was the elected head of the city executive or the chief administrative assistant, annually elected, of the magistrates; he had a staff of permanent clerks, responsible for the paper work of the city.

B.  (:37)  Criminal Charges are Not Appropriate – No Threat to Our Religion

1.  No Sacrilege

“For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples

            2.  No Blasphemy

nor blasphemers of our goddess.

C.   (:38-39)  Complaints and Charges Must be Addressed Lawfully – No Threat to Our Economy

2 Options:

So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly.

Stott: Demetrius and his colleagues are familiar with statutory legal procedures.  If they have a private grievance, they should bring their case to the proconsular assizes.  If, on the other hand, their case is more serious and more public, they should refer it to “a legal assembly,” the correct technical term for the regular (three times a month) official meetings of the demos or city council.

D.  (:40-41)  Consequences of an Unruly Riot Could Be Serious

’For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s affair, since there is no real cause for it; and in this connection we shall be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.’  And after saying this he dismissed the assembly.

Disorderly conduct would constitute a serious threat from the Roman government

CONCLUSION:

Campbell Morgan: The church persecuted has always been the church pure; and, therefore, the church powerful.  The church patronized has always been the church in peril, and very often, the church paralyzed.

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