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The Difference Jesus Makes: Dethroning Idolatry

January 28, 2024 Preacher: Jeff Griffis Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles

Scripture: Acts 19:21–41

The Difference Jesus Makes: Dethroning Idolatry – Acts 19:21–41


In Acts 19, Luke presents Ephesus as a prime example of the difference Jesus makes. The sole object of faith that can restore us to God is Jesus, because he is God and is God’s chosen means (Acts 19:1-10). The greatest miracle God does is to transform people by his Spirit to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And those who rightly exalt Jesus are of necessity demolishing evil practices and dethroning idolatry (Acts 19:11-20, & 21-41). As Paul plans his departure, a riot breaks out in Ephesus over the societal impact of Christianity because of the change in people’s lives. (Acts 19:21-41

Acts 19:21–29 ESV

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 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. 27 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.” 28When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 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.

[image of present ruins of Ephesian theater, and a digital rendering of that theater, which could have held up to 17-25,000 people - not only for entertainment, but served also for town meetings] 

Acts 19:30–41 ESV

30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs, who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 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. 33 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. 34 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!” 35 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? 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 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. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 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.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

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The two sections of our text are vv. 21&22, and vv. 23 (all the way through) 41, each one beginning with a general time marker: “Now after these events” and “About that time.” So we’ll look briefly at Paul’s plans and then turn our attention to the upheaval in Ephesus over Christianity. (Christians behaving like Christians, who have put away the sinful practices of their past to promote Jesus.) A significant number of these changed lives in a given region impacts local society. Christianity making such waves is unwelcome by those with a vested self-interest in the idolatrous status quo. The idolatrous masses are readily whipped into a confused, unreasoned frenzy of persecution toward that which they believe threatens their self-interest. Those in power, if they remain idolatrous, will stem this persecution so long as it is in their own perceived best interest.

Now we can’t just leave this as the facts: Paul’s Future Plans, & Christianity Making Waves in Ephesus. We must figure out what to walk away with from the truth presented in God’s word.

[these next two are one slide]

Christians strive for Jesus to be enthroned among all people.
Wherever Jesus changes lives, we can anticipate but must not be deterred by opposition due to idolatrous self-interest.

As Paul prepares to leave Ephesus, his plans and partnerships do not prioritize self-interest but instead focus on seeing Jesus enthroned in every place.

Ask yourself: Why is Paul departing when things are going so well? v. 10, v. 20 - And he didn’t know there was about to be rioting.

(Because) The mature missionary mindset strives to see Jesus enthroned among all people. (vv. 21-22) This is not be unique to Paul, or even to “missionaries” who specifically leave home in order to promote the gospel elsewhere.

Christians strive to see Jesus exalted and enthroned among all people.

Yes, Jesus commanded us, but we also believe he deserves to be so exalted among all people in every place. Christians exalt Jesus to such heights in our own hearts that we strive to see Jesus enthroned among all people.

So, Paul’s planning not only outlines the rest of Acts, but also serves to show the mature missionary mindset, which should be the case for all of Christ’s people: striving to see Jesus enthroned in every place.

Paul’s transitional plans in Ephesus serve as a roadmap for the remainder of Acts and as a pattern for advancing the gospel through partners in ministry.

Note Paul’s… 1. Strategic Planning for Gospel Advance  2. Progressively Training & Releasing Ministry Partners
  1. Paul will indeed travel through Macedonia and Achaia on his way back to Jerusalem, and then he will slowly make his way through Rome (though not by the means he would have anticipated at this point). He will go as a prisoner under trial. - For Paul, Rome was strategic. It was quite literally the influential center of the whole Roman world.
  2. Paul’s plans also reflect something important about his partnerships. Paul can’t be in two places at once. He wanted to collect donations for the poor in Jerusalem, so he sends Timothy and Erastus on to lay the groundwork for his coming. (Timothy we know, but Erastus seems to have been a co-worker from Corinth, who may have been that city’s treasurer at one time. [so a well to do and influential member of society there]) - We are also reminded here that Paul will not always be present. Shouldn’t we too be striving to raise up men and women who will carry on and even surpass us in their ministry for Christ? (And I don’t just mean like a church as an organization, but each one of us.)

Christians strive to see Jesus enthroned among all people.

But as Paul prepares to leave Ephesus, we discover also that Christianity has been making waves in Ephesus by the change that Jesus has made in people’s lives. 

[According to Luke] Although Christianity is not a threat to a truly just government and law, it makes waves in society due to the status quo of idolatrous self-interest. Christians (whose lives are dramatically changed) threaten the status quo of self-interested idolatry in society because we are demolishing our own evil practices and dethroning idols in our lives. Luke here shows the Ephesians overreacting but knows the underlying truth is that Jesus necessarily makes this much difference.

As Christians impact society by dethroning idolatry in our own hearts and lives, we can anticipate persecution from idolatrous self-interest, but such opposition must not deter us.

At that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. The Way (Christianity) makes waves in society because exalting Jesus necessarily dethrones idolatry. (Jesus being the embodiment of the One True God)

I’m always telling you that Luke highlights specific episodes for a reason. He chooses to recount this Ephesus episode in detail because it is a specific historical event that is representative of universal trends. I’ll emphasize this for us by showing you how the major players embody certain patterns and characteristics.

Demetrius the silversmith embodies the idolatrous self-interest of men.

Demetrius is influential among the craftsmen, perhaps the leader of some kind of professional guild of craftsmen. Although he made idols from precious materials, many household gods and souvenirs and amulets, even small representations of Artemis or of her temple, would have been made of a less-expensive terra cotta (baked clay). So there would have been metal-workers, wood-workers, clay-workers, and so on, who all made a profit off of selling idols. (v. 25)

So what’s the problem? v. 27 - His religious piety appears little more than a thin veil for personal economic interest, but this tactic is quite successful in rousing others to his side. There is personal profit to be considered, plus there are corporate economic issues, and there is religious and civic pride intertwined together in the worship of Artemis.

In this verse we hear mention of the danger that she might be “deposed of her magnificence.” Artemis is at risk of being dethroned of her status. Now we know, or ought to know, that idolatry in fact must be dethroned, because the place of deity belongs only to the One True God.

The essence of idolatry is to worship the creature rather than the Creator. Idolatry is to worship creating things (like the sun, moon, and stars) and gods of our own making, including false deities… but also ourselves and our desires.

How little we realize that the real object of our worship, our devotion, is most often ourselves. Idolatry betrays our ungodly self-interest (Godless), our arrogance to make gods in our own image that we might worship them.

Just so…

Artemis (of the Ephesians) embodies idolatry, gods of our own making.

The Greek goddess Artemis was also known to the Romans as Diana, but acceptance and fusion of worshipping false gods was so common that this Ephesian version was her own thing, no longer a virgin archer-huntress of nature and fertility but fused with an Asian mother-goddess of fertility. (And features of surviving statues of Artemis Ephesia displayed these characteristics in a way that I won’t explain or show with young company in our presence.)

Gods of our own making are a reflection of our own depraved desires and ways of thinking. Greek gods, and all gods of our own invention, behave like us, but with more power and with impunity. It’s what we wish we could be and do. This strikes us as utter nonsense once we believe in the existence of a God who is Holy, transcendently “other” as compared to us. That’s God.

So Demetrius get’s this right: Paul does teach that gods made by human hands are not gods at all. Acts 17:24-25 “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

The fact is that Artemis ought to be deposed and counted as nothing.

Paul and those persuaded by Christ embody the invasiveness of Christianity.

“Not only in Ephesus but in all of Asia,” Paul and those who have been persuaded are making waves.

Christianity is meddlesome and invasive. As sin is like a fatal disease that has infected everyone, so true Christianity (submission to Jesus) is like a contagious remedy that restores health in relationship to God. - Faith in Jesus dramatically changes the way we view our relationship to God and the world. We live it and we say it. Where does my joy and conviction come from? Let me tell you that Jesus has cured my soul of it’s own sinful self-destruction.

By contrast, do you know how you can spot false gods and a false gospel? People can just attach it as a side feature with little or no impact to their lives.

Yeah, Christianity stirs up trouble for our self-interest and idolatry. Jesus bursts onto the scene of our lives and upends our hearts and understanding of reality. We stop worshiping us and what we make and start worshiping God through faith in Jesus. And by his Spirit he continues to guide us such that we are tearing down everything that sets itself up agains the knowledge of God, and we keep putting on that which reflects Christ’s image. The more idolatrous the society, the sharper the contrast of true Christianity.

And the Jews minded their own business a lot better than this new Christianity. Although many Jews continued to worship God in their way wherever they may have been spread out, and they allowed others to become proselytes to the worship of Jehovah, they weren’t missionaries. Judaism fit better into the mold of so-called religious tolerance of the Roman empire and period of peace.

Christianity proves a little more problematic because, well, Christians are commanded to, and motivated to, and empowered by the Spirit to see Jesus exalted and enthroned among all people in every place.

Christianity is unavoidably invasive and exclusive. There is but one God (Father, Son, Spirit), and Jesus Christ the only mediator between God and man.

So, again in the example of the context here, it isn’t difficult for momentum to grow quickly against Christianity.

The mob embodies the confused and unreasonable mentality and momentum of the self-interested masses.

Idolatry is a way of life - as we see here: religion, politics, economics, civic pride, all inseparable from the worship of the Ephesian Artemis

The craftsmen become enraged and are shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” which stirs the city into confusion (a confused and disorderly uproar), also in v. 32. (shouting different things and most don’t even know why they have come together)

Has this not proven to be true in broader American culture?

Did not something very similar happen with Jesus?

Now because of their association with Jesus and his people,  a couple of Paul’s companions get caught up in this tumult.

Gaius & Aristarchus embody the potential for being personally targeted for persecution in ungodly society.

These guys are targeted because of they are known associates of Paul. Paul’s friends are determined to protect him, not only the disciples but even the local Asiarchs - keepers of Roman religion in the region (which was polytheistic in nature and included worshipping the emperor). 

Christians are primary targets for those who love their idolatry. And no matter how unreasonable, they simply bully their way forward by being the loudest. (Prove their irrational frenzy by grabbing the easiest ones they can get their hands on at the time.)

Now during the raucous in the theater…

Alexander embodies the silenced voice of monotheism.

We don’t know if he’s a Christian or simply a prominent Jew in that community, but he is at least a monotheist. These crowds have no desire to listen to any monotheist.

The Jews may begin to have issues in the Roman world by association with Christianity (which is ironically what many undoubtedly wanted to prevent).

Finally, though, there is a voice that prevails due to the point he makes regarding their own self-interest. - Why does this reasoning with the people ultimately work? Because of the self-interest of the Ephesians. “If we are riotous people, we will lose our freedoms and privileges in Roman society.”

But beyond this, Luke also seems to have in mind…

The town clerk embodies the voice of reason according to the just role that the law and government should play.

Christians are in fact ideal citizens of a civil society. Voices of reason, even idolatrous ones, should realize that Christians are law-abiding, ideal citizens of civil society.

Just legal procedures are on the side of the upright. Christians are no threat to Roman law. In fact, they are model citizens. Roman law, when functioning justly, would favor the upright. (The question is whether or not fair treatment lasts under human law & government.)   

Luke gets the big picture: When healthy Christians suffer at the hands of the law, injustice is served. (When rational voices of justice prevail, Christians are safe. When injustice is served, Christians suffer—but such is to be like Jesus.)

As we said, the clerk’s position too is still idolatrous and self-interested. (We cannot justify this mob, v. 40) The idolatrous in places of power and authority will push for just treatment of Christians, as long as it is in their own self-interest.

So the lingering question from Luke is, will true justice prevail, or what will happen when what is right is not in the self-interest of those in power?

Jesus and his people are opposed in society not because we are wrong but precisely because we are right.

Conclusion:  Enthroning Jesus

Rightly submitting to Jesus changes people, and changed people change society. Though the idolatrous clamor loudly that Christianity is a threat, we must look beyond this to the goal of seeing Jesus enthroned everywhere.

Although our idolatrous society doesn’t know it, what is in everyone’s best interest is to trust and obey God. So for our sake, and theirs, we continue to exalt Jesus, whatever they may do to us.

Redirecting our self-interest: Through Jesus, God’s graciously directs our self-interest toward himself. God is kind and loving to make it known to us that He is our highest good and greatest joy. (to show us how sin is incurable by our own effort, for Jesus fulfill the requirement himself, and for God to offer and to give us faith in Jesus in order that we may gain God, our greatest good) We are idolatrous because we have misdirected self-interest. What is in our best interest is to fear God, trust God, love God, and obey God. That’s what the Bible teaches.

Paul’s self-interest is directed toward God, which also makes him focus on the interest of others. He makes plans according to what he thinks God desires of him. He trains and sends out his companions according to what he thinks best for the spread of the gospel and the strengthening of the churches.


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