Hand made gods
1. "After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome," (19:21-22).
2. Paul thought about the following situation. The churches born during his second missionary journey appeared to have compelling needs. The churches at Thessalonica and Corinth had lots of problems. We can see this situation in Paul's letters to them. After writing them, then Paul tried to head for Jerusalem. One of his purposes was to deliver financial assistance to the impoverished church at Jerusalem. During his stay at Ephesus, Paul sent the following words to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 16:1-4): "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come. And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality [offering] unto Jerusalem. And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me." In addition, beside Jerusalem, he had intended to head for Rome. At this point, the narrative in the book of Acts begins to develop towards a new direction even beyond the initial reference to journeying to Rome. The word in verse 21 that says "I must see even Rome," relates more than Paul's request, it expresses the will of God. So it is the will of God heading for its fulfillment. This is not something out of the methods and means conceived by any human. From this story we will take a look at the way God guided Paul to Rome.
3. It seemed at that time period that Paul was planning to stay at Ephesus for still a while longer. In the letter to the Corinthian disciples which I just shared the following is also written (I Corinthians 16:8,9): "But I will stay on [at Ephesus]... because there are many adversaries." These are strange words, but something important is being said. Even though there were opponents and even though many people would not accept the gospel he was delivering, it was neither a hopeless situation nor one where one ought to be disappointed and discouraged. What the church ought to do is nothing but proclaim the gospel in the places God has given us and in accordance with the doors he has laid open. The church shouldn't have the habit of quitting and giving up but of going on to proclaim the good news over and over again. Well, in today's passage a riot caused by the adversaries at Ephesus is recorded. Certainly what Luke is taking up here is not an isolated example. In verse 20 we read "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." We can see here a typical response that occurs when God's word is given out. The truth is the way people act today has seen little change since two thousand years.
4. There was a man called Demetrius. He seems to have been an employer of silversmiths. They made figurines of the goddess Artemis [alias Diana]. The temple to Artemis at Ephesus was a major architectural work counted as one of the seven wonders of the world. Many pilgrims came to visit there. Consequently silver works were for sale. Some came seeking to use the figurine idols as offerings to the temple and some came to buy them as souvenirs and keepsakes. But after the sermon Paul gave, it appears their business took a turn of unprofitability. Therefore, Demetrius gathered all his coworkers to give them the following lecture (verses 25-27): "He called together [the craftspersons] with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands; so that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana [Artemis] should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth." What does Luke want to communicate in these words he has recorded? Through Demetrius' speech Luke tells what kinds of opposition and rejection arise against the gospel. Through this speech Luke underscores several key points.
5. First of all, what Demetrius was primarily interested in was not the issue of truth. His interest had nothing to do with any problem of religion. It was about their worry over their profit problems. It was about how the inconveniences which they were facing were the source of their antagonism and rejections. At first it was admirable how they said, "We're afraid that the reputation of our work is in danger of ending up being ill spoken of." Then they added, "The temple of the great goddess Artemis is being made light of and the authority of this temple which all Asia and the whole world respected will probably be lost." This saying was only a means to agitate the religious sentiments of the masses [their customers].
6. The church kept on preaching the message of salvation in Christ. Unfortunately it is not necessarily always accepted; rather, here it experienced a great measure of rejection and opposition. In many instances the reason rejection comes is not based on a problem with truth content. They did not judge the contents of what was preached as untrue after their meditation and examination of it and thereby take on an attitude of antagonism. Rather, the obstacle against the gospel came about because of various financial losses and inconveniences. That's how it was in Demetrius' case. So, Demetrius at least took in accurately one portion of Paul's message. "God is not something made by hand." Could he have possibly heard the message straight from Paul himself? I'm not sure. But at least he understood the point in question made in one of Paul's sermons about the issue of how to view God. It was all a matter of how God ought to be worshipped properly. But the inside of his head was so full of how "it is hurting my profits."
7. For Demetrius the situation was a very misfortunate one. The Christian religion is not an accessory; it is not something nice to have but completely unnecessary. The Bible clearly shows that a relationship with God is the basis for human existence and this relationship is an important matter that concerns our eternal destiny. It has to do with salvation or destruction. This matter of faith has to do with important truth that determines the meaning of human life. When the questions of life are flung at you, how unhappy a thing would it be to think only of near-sighted profits? How sorrowful a thing would it be if you made the important decisions of human lie based on short-term inconveniences? But the fact is even today one can see many instances of these things.
8. Secondly, Demetrius' speech was not entirely in line with logic. A few moments ago I said one of the points made in Paul's sermon was about the problem of how to view God. We saw this previously in the sermon at Mar's Hill [Aeropagus] in Athens in Acts 17. Based on the tone of the way Demetrius speaks he certainly could have said "God is not something made by hand." Paul was not saying anything off the wall or strange; however, this expression may not have been exactly proper to them. In olden times, in many situations, the images themselves were not regarded with the same weight as a god, but it seems they were considered the dwelling place of the spirits of the gods. But really, in the end it is the same thing. Paul is making it crystal clear that the appropriate one to call God worthy of our worship is no one but the creator of every thing in heaven and earth. Because of this, it is obvious that God cannot be a humanly made being. Just for the sake of argument, even if some gods lived in images fashioned by the hand or in Shinto shrines or household shrines [common in Japanese homes], they could not possibly be worthy objects of worship because they are created beings just like humans. But, the true creator is not part of created beings. If created beings, such as these are, cannot bring about a final judgment upon us, neither can they offer us a final salvation. The creator is the one who can do exactly that and there is none outside of him who is Lord of all creation. This is just the way it should be. In the first place, what in the world kind of being is Artemis becoming when it is said about her based on the human work of one like Paul that "the worship of this goddess will end up lost."? In speaking about an existence that humans must preserve with all their might and being, Demetrius without even arranging it demonstrates that idols could not be gods. So, he reveals how his own words to thwart Paul are not compatible with logic.
The Frenzy Of A Religious Crowd
9. Luke clearly shows in the way he recorded Demetrius' speech how opposition towards the preaching of the gospel is often unfair or absurd. In this particular case he points out that the very message itself which the church delivered is not in any way against society or reason. But in today's practice I think contemporary believers are surrounded by many such misconceptions. In becoming a christian, it seems many persons think if something was at first hard to believe then sacrifice reason and it becomes "credible automatically." Perhaps they think a person who does not exercise normal human thought becomes a person "obsessed" with any possible thing. But there is a terrible misunderstanding in this. Although the message transmitted by the church is never involved in mere human thought, it must bear up under such thought. Rather, there is a world pregnant with problems in any path to a general "religious heart" or "believing heart" which does not involve some human thought. In truth, Luke is reporting here an example of how a group of people with such a "religious heart" make a move that is quite unreasonable in a crisis moment.
10. Please take a look from verse 28 on. Here the people wildly raise their chests and begin screaming "How great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Chaos was in the city. The crowd jammed into the open air theater. In verse 32 Luke sketches a truly humorous picture of the state of the people. "Well, the crowd was screaming all over the place. The assembly of people was in complete confusion and most of the persons present had no clue why they had assembled." At that time the Jews push out a man called Alexander. He made a hand signal. Facing the crowd he tried to give an explanation. What could have been the explanation he tried to give? Perhaps, amidst this frenzy the local Jews, who had misgivings about the attack which was not directed towards them at all, tried to emphasize that "We are not connected to Paul." But it says, when the crowd found out Alexander was a Jew they screamed nonstop for two whole hours "How great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"
11. At last the town clerk comes on the scene and quiets the crowd. What he said is summarized in the next three points. First, since it is an undeniable fact that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great goddess and her image, there is no need for screaming and doing any thing drastic. Second, if there is to be any appeals or demands made, one should follow regular procedures. Third, as far as this situation goes, there is a fear driving them to the crime of rebellion against the Roman empire. What this clerk says does not touch upon any religious matters. From the start he is probably not even concerned about the authority of Artemis. I think that he was just asking for "a peaceful situation" because there were supposedly many top officials in this free city belonging to Roman rule. At any rate, according to the clerk's message, every one did go home. But, from the start they never really had any meaningful reason to meet especially as we note how just this simple act caused every one to go home. What in the world had these people done here? Luke is describing in this sweeping incident how utterly foolish their actions have been. Furthermore, this type of folly definitely comes in many different shapes and sizes, and doesn't it seem to happen almost every where? Indeed, the church is no exception. A similar foolishness is repeated again in various forms whenever the church departs from the Word of God, loses its posture of seeking the truth, and takes on varieties of simplistic beliefs and practices. This kind of thing can happen in our own daily religious life.
12. Well, this is how Paul announces his work in Ephesus is over. He announced that he was parting from his disciples and headed for Macedonia. Next, Paul wrote the following account which included what happened at the riot under Demetrius and what he experienced over in Asia. II Corinthians 1:8,9 says "Brothers, I want to make known to you by all means about the hardships we had in Asia. We could barely endure the oppression and lost our desire to live. We felt that we had received the death sentence. But we did not rely on ourselves, we turned to God who makes the dead come back to life." We take note that the hardships in Ephesus that Luke has written about were serious. What supported Paul during those hardships was not a human made God. Nor was it even a believing heart. What Paul depended on was the One who is the creative Lord of heaven and earth, the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the God who controls both the life and death of a person. As we examine and know God's precious Word, we believe this: Yes, there is a God who ought to be worshipped. This God is not hand made. In fact, he is one of a kind and there is no one else beside him.