“About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, 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 may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.” When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried out 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 prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.” (Acts 19:23-41 ESV)
It doesn’t take much, not really much at all. Sometimes just a word or two will do it, occasionally a few more but, really, not much. What am I talking about? What it takes to make someone angry, angry enough to lash out. Sometimes they lash out with words and sometimes they use more; sometimes they use things that leave marks or even scars. Honestly, sometimes the words hurt more and leave deeper, emotional scars. This is especially true when those words come from someone you trust or who claims to love you. In Ephesus, it took more than just a word or two. It may have started slowly, but once that train started rolling it began to pick up speed, quickly.
Paul had been preaching in Ephesus for over two years and the seed he had been planting was now beginning to reap a significant spiritual harvest. Paul’s preaching of the good news regarding Jesus and His “way” or path of redemption was becoming noticed by some folks in town. I want you to notice how Paul’s opponent, Demetrius, puts it: “not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.” Demetrius didn’t really notice or care about Paul until Paul’s message began to have a significant impact on his income. That’s often the way it goes. There’s no opposition to the message of the gospel until it begins to fully change the way people believe, act and live out their lives. Then it becomes a problem, a real problem.
The first thing I want to point out is the term Luke uses for the Christian faith, the WAY. This is the exact word Jesus uses in John 14:6 when He tells the disciples that He is the way, the truth and the life. It is the word that would be used to identify the road or path to a specific location or to refer to the journey someone was taking. If we listen carefully to Jesus’ words, then we clearly see that He says that He is the pathway or road to God in this journey we call life. So, the group of Christian believers and their message or good news become known as “the Way.”
We are often told, today, that it is not only personally offensive but simply wrong to claim that Jesus is the only way to God and life in heaven. In fact, we are even told by modern skeptics that Jesus never made such a claim Himself but that this is simply the result of a Christian power play by the church to seize control over men’s lives. Let me state very clearly, if this were true we wouldn’t see these early references to the very words and phrases in Luke’s account in Acts and that we have indisputable evidence of the accuracy of the gospel accounts and the rest of the New Testament records. This was not a “power play” by the 4th or 5th century church, it is an accurate record of Christ’s words and the Apostles’ preaching. Jesus IS the WAY, He is the TRUTH, He is the LIFE and the only way to God.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)
You see, that’s the problem with the Gospel. It IS personally offensive. It is offensive because it presents the truth about us and our sinful self. I was in an online conversation with someone this past week and they said, “The LGBTQIA+ belief is about equality, and loving thy neighbor. The Christian belief regarding LGBTQIA+ peoples is anything but that.” Our conversation actually started over that person’s rejection of the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” They see that phrase as a rejection of “who they are” and we see it as a rejection of “what they do.” In a very real sense, this is exactly what is happening in our story, today. The Ephesian silversmith, Demetrius, sees the gospel as a direct attack, not only upon his source of income, but also upon the very heart of their culture, the temple and worship of Artemis. In his eyes, this isn’t just about “what they do” but it is really an attack on “who they are,” as Ephesians.
To be honest, this is always going to be a point of conflict between the true Gospel and those who reject its truth. And yet, that is also the very heart of the gospel message. Sin has corrupted our view of who we are, what we truly need and want, and who (and not what) is the source of real satisfaction and fulfillment in our lives. In our modern culture, our personal feelings, sexual desires and deeply-felt needs tend to define who we are. So the person I mentioned above, sees themself as being defined by their “sexuality” and the desires and needs it develops in their life. So, when a Christian “friend” told her that they loved her as a person but viewed her sexual choices as sinful then she heard that as a rejection of who she is as a person.
You might not have caught it, but I stated that this will always be a point of conflict with the TRUE gospel and those who reject its truth. There are some, today, who want to alter the truth of the gospel to fit into our modern cultural context. But to be honest, there are also some who want to alter it in other ways that are just as dangerous. Some want to make the gospel more palatable to the LGBTQIA+ crowd by saying that Jesus never spoke out directly against them and their sexuality.
First, that’s just not true and is not consistent with the New Testament. Jesus did speak out about what sexuality and marriage was about: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:6-9 ESV https://www.bible.com/59/mrk.10.6-9.esv) Still, others would say that he never condemned homosexuals or homosexual sex directly and that it is only condemned in the Old Testament and that Jesus did away with the Old Testament Laws. Again, not exactly accurate: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17 ESV)
Now, I’m really not trying to make this a sermon about “Gay bashing,” as some might think. I want you to see that this conflict that Paul encountered in Ephesus and the conflict we are encountering today with a traditional and biblically based gospel message is, in essence, the same kind of conflict. When the message you preach starts interfering with people’s lives and livelihood, then it becomes offensive and difficult to accept. Why? Because sin is, at its core, a rejection of the sovereignty of God in our personal lives. It is truly idolatry in its purest form. Not an idol made of wood, silver or gold but a god, nonetheless. Sin says to God, “you aren’t the boss of me, I am!” Isn’t it ironic that we are essentially saying, “I AM isn’t God, I am!”
You see, that is really what is missed in the LGBTQIA+ and modern culture view of the self. If we are made by God and in His image, we cannot find ourselves in our sexuality or our gender “choice” but we can only truly find ourselves in Him – the greatest self, I AM. I AM is the name God gave when Moses asked “when they ask, ‘what is his name’ what shall I tell them?” (see Exodus 3:13) So, to continue seeking oneself through sexuality, gender modification or through ANY personal expression or achievement is to completely miss God because you are going the wrong WAY.
So, if I’ve offended you (and if I had, you probably wouldn’t have kept reading and gotten this far – but if you have, thank you) then I simply ask that you step back and ask yourself, “who is God in this relationship? Me or Him?” Am I or is I AM? Your relationship with God really is at stake, here.
Finally, I want you to notice that Demetrius tries to incite a riot because this new religious movement (Christianity – the Way) was encroaching into his personal space and source of income but Paul really wasn’t engaging directly with Demetrius. Paul’s message was just having an impact on the lives of others and Demetrius was beginning to feel the effect because they stopped buying the items he and the other craftsmen made. So, Demetrius is fearful that his income is going to be significantly impacted by Paul’s preaching, although indirectly. So, Demetrius gathers his co-craftsmen and convinces them that not only is their means of income in danger the very essence of their culture is being threatened.
So, does Christianity encroach upon and threaten someone’s “native” culture, in whatever form that might exist? The simple answer is, YES! Absolutely. Wait, what? Christianity asks me to abandon my culture? Doesn’t Jesus just encourage everyone to love one another, be morally good and get along? Well, not exactly. That’s really the core problem. You can’t really do any of those things, fully. At least, not without God’s intervention and help. There’s a term used to describe this issue but it is often misunderstood, total depravity. Don’t stop reading, yet. Total depravity doesn’t mean everyone is totally depraved and never does anything good or right. Total depravity really means that the totality of your being is infected with badness or sin. In other words, sin infects and affects every area of life. G.K. Chesterton once noted, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved…”
This is where Christianity impacts culture, whether that’s the culture of ancient Ephesus, modern America or your hometown. Christ doesn’t just change the way you react and respond to others, morally or socially, He changes how you view the world and everything in it. Does He want you to love others? Absolutely, He gave us direct commands regarding that very thing. Does He expect you to be morally good and socially responsible? Of course, He does. But because our culture is a product of human design and understanding and, ultimately, a reflection of our broken (or sinful) character then it has characteristics that are broken and in opposition to God’s will. That’s why Paul’s preaching is having such an impact on Demetrius and his guild of craftsmen. He CHANGES you! Those who were coming to faith in Christ were abandoning their devotion to and worship of Artemis. Jesus is the Son of God and Artemis is a false god and was unworthy of their devotion and worship.
This is also why biblical Christianity is in conflict with our modern culture. Our culture expects us, even demands of us, that we put aside our “traditional” beliefs because they are so “old fashioned” and out of sync with the way we now see and understand things, today. To believe that God would “oppress” our sexual feelings or desires or would want us to do so is just not how our culture views God, today. That’s so old fashioned. If God really loves me then He wouldn’t want me to deny who I am but He would want me to embrace those feelings because He made me “that way,” to find my “true” self. And, therein lies the conflict…
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)
Jesus: “If you want to come after me, deny yourself…” Yes, you must recognize that your feelings, your desires and even your ambitions are going to lead you away from God and not towards Him. It is only when you begin to deny these very things and seek understanding and obedience to Him that you begin to discover the real meaning and purpose of life. You move from saying I AM god of my own life to saying the great I AM is God of my life and I will love, pursue and obey Him with all of my being (see Matt. 22:33-40).
Let me end by clarifying a key issue. Just because you are sinful it doesn’t make you worthless and unlovable. In fact, because you and I are made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-28), even though our hearts are sinful, we are loved by God and He has sought to redeem us through His Son, Jesus. The entire story of scripture is the story of our creation, our rebellion, God’s work of redemption, and our complete restoration, in Christ. Our modern culture doesn’t like the term “sin” because it hurts our pride. To acknowledge the reality of sin is to agree that it plagues every aspect of life. It also makes us dependent upon God for redemption. If we really are plagued by sin in EVERY area of life, then we are incapable of saving ourselves and we do NEED Jesus. It means that Paul is right and Demetrius is wrong. It also means that God is right and you are wrong. Sin is a big deal, a really big deal.
What does that mean about you? It means you are loved and God offers total redemption. “For whoever would save his [own] life will lose it, but whoever loses his [own] life for my sake will save it.” Will you seek to save your own life, or will you lose your life to Him and truly save it?