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Acts

Making a Buck

Acts  19:21-41

One of the constants of human society is this: somebody who needs to make a buck will move others, by whatever arguments are at hand, to oppose anyone who stands in his way. We see that here with a silversmith named Demetrius:

(Acts 19:21-41 NIV) After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. "After I have been there," he said, "I must visit Rome also." {22} He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer. {23} About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. {24} A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. {25} He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: "Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. {26} And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. {27} There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty." {28} When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" {29} Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater. {30} Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. {31} Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. {32} The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. {33} The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. {34} But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" {35} The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: "Men of Ephesus, doesn't all 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? {36} Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. {37} You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. {38} If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. {39} If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. {40} As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it." {41} After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Background

No one really knows today what the temple of Diana looked like. Diana is the Roman name for the Greek Artemis. In classical mythology she was the goddess of the hunt; by this time in Ephesus she had transmuted to the goddess of fertility. Her festival, celebrated in May, was a month long orgy, and people traveled great distances to be in on the party. We do know some things about the temple and its worship:

·         The temple itself was the fourth such on the site, and it was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Little but the base and some broken pillars remain today. It was so famous that one man (in 356BC) set fire to it - simply so that his name would be remembered as the man who did it. The Ephesians responded by making it a crime to mention his name.

·         It is generally believed to have been centered around a large, lumpy meteorite - which was therefore (in their minds) an image thrown down from heaven. It's a little difficult to transmute this into the goddess, but the lumps in question were long thought to be breasts - which was thought to be the origin of Diana becoming a fertility goddess.

·         Recent research indicates, however, that the lumps shown on the little copies made by Demetrius and his trade might very well have been something quite a bit more gruesome. It seems that one way to worship this goddess was to cut the testicle sac off of a bull and present it as an offering to this fertility goddess. They were evidently hung on this meteorite.

Demetrius

We know from ancient history a bit about Demetrius and the others here. The implication from the original language is that Demetrius is an owner of a shop which makes and sells these devotional images of Diana. He moves the workers in his and other shops to this riot. The shrines themselves are small silver boxes, the outside of which resemble the Temple in various ways. Inside might be found an image of the goddess.

Paul

Paul was not looking for this dispute. Indeed, it can be seen that he has not paid any particular attention to Diana; she's just one more of the gods and goddesses made by man. Paul, in fact, is thinking of leaving town anyway. What's on his mind?

·         He has left behind, in Corinth and other cities, many new Christians, and he is anxious to instruct them further in the way.

·         More than that, he longs to go to Rome - the center of the known world. From there he can see the cause of Christ exploding over the empire.

·         But first there is a duty he must perform. He must carry a gift from the churches in Asia Minor (now Turkey) to the church in Jerusalem, which is in a famine at this time.[1]

So Paul, not looking for trouble (but as usual always ready for it) is about to leave town anyway. He was not, however, looking to leave at the front of a riot. We see here both the evil in the attack and God's goodness in his care for the saints.

Evil Displayed

Demetrius is ever with us, for wherever money is mixed with religion, the profiteer is ready. Indeed, one of the roots of idolatry is the love of money - first, that in seeking a partial god most seek financial gain through spiritual influence, and next that there are always those willing to sell trinkets to the devout.

But if you want to start a riot, you will need more than greed. The motive is money, but the method is different:

·         First, he appeals to their superstitions. The logic is faulty (as the town clerk shows eventually) - if Diana is so great, what need has she of this riot? But they don't see it that way. So he arouses the faithful who really believe in Diana.

·         But an even greater appeal is at hand: conservatism. These people are changing things! Why, they don't even participate in the annual orgy! What kind of wild-eyed radicals are these people, anyway?

·         But - and this is always useful - the real kicker is local pride. The chant is not "Great is Artemis" but "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians." Root for the home team, and don't let these outsiders fool you!

You can see why most of the people[2] did not really know why they were there. If they did, they'd have gone home.

Religion and Art

Religion and art are intertwined throughout history. Indeed, at the start of the Jewish nation, with Moses, God commands the use of artistry in the Tabernacle and in the Ark. So we cannot really say that art has no place in Christianity. (Indeed, we may have much to learn about this from the Eastern Orthodox.) But we also know that art may be misused in the faith. Indeed, we see three kinds of art and artist:

·         There are those for whom their art and their worship of God are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. Art is an expression of the self, and if it is given in praise to God, then it is worthy indeed. Athanasius tells us that in music we are closest to heaven, for only then does the whole of the heart, mind, body and soul come together praising God. How can we recognize such art? I give you the "Notre Dame" test: do you know the name of the architect who designed that cathedral in Paris? Neither does anyone else - he did it for the glory of God.

·         There are also those supremely talented individuals - such as a Michaelangelo - who take a commission from the church to produce art. That this is great art cannot be denied. Its greatness comes from the skill of the artist in moving the saint to praise God, not in the inherent worth of the artist.

·         Then - and by far the most common, unfortunately - there are those who make their living producing art which is neither great artistically nor spiritually. Demetrius is a prototype of such. We see this today. Go to your nearby Christian bookstore. On prominent display you will find three kinds of items:

1.    You will see books recently written, giving you the latest in pop psychology and the "Gospel of Wealth." You will have to look on the bottom shelves for sound doctrine.

2.    You will see cutesy folk art pictures, usually with Bible verses painted on them or someone's devotional thought. Pay some attention to the price tags, and compare them to similar items in a secular card shop. The benefits of competition are seen at the card shop.

3.    Music - again, the latest in fashion - will be on display. Some of the greatest music ever written was made to praise the Lord; you will not find it here.

Does this mean that all such books, artwork and music are nothing but trinkets? Not at all. But there are two problems that we can see:

·         Sometimes this art crowds out from our view the purposes of God. If we have a picture of Christ over our table, do we see it as Jesus blessing us - or as a reminder to feed the hungry? If the art moves us toward Christ, it is blessed.

·         The peril is not just for us - but for the artist. You cannot use the road to heaven as a shortcut to the drugstore. Churning out Christian art is not the same as being a real Christian.

God's Goodness Displayed

Before we begin, it must be made clear that God does have expectations of the worker - even the artistic worker:

·         First, whatever we do, we are to do it as if to the Lord.[3] This alters many common attitudes. We are not working "just to make a living." Rather, God has permitted you the job you have so that you might turn it into service for Him.

·         We are to work hard.[4] Laziness is not a virtue.

·         We are to work wholeheartedly.[5]

·         And we are not to worry about the results - for God will provide.[6]

Now, picture the artist doing this. Now you can see the architect of Notre Dame hard at work. Work, seen through the eyes of Christ, is a sacrament.

God's providence

In this day we often think of the government as the enemy of the church. Sadly, it is often so. But it should not be. Here, the town clerk exercises a proper function of the government in quelling this riot. We are taught to ask for peace in our time; why? So that the Gospel might spread more easily.

Paul - the model of the Christian: completely fearless, continually cheerful and constantly in trouble - wants to talk to these people. We see a riot; he sees a lot of people to preach to all at once. From his actions we can see some lessons:

·         First, note again he has not directly assailed the temple, the goddess or the silversmiths. Rather, he has put forth Jesus Christ - and all else follows naturally. It is a lesson for those who criticize first and then preach the Gospel.

·         It is also a lesson in humility. Paul accepts the advice of those who care for him, and lets wisdom overrule courage.

Our Trials

It does seem that Paul has more than his share of troubles for the Gospel. Why, then, is this permitted? Is it not so that God may bring a greater good out of the troubles?

·         First, in our afflictions we are more likely to think of things eternal than things of this world. "Depend upon it," said Samuel Johnson, "when a man knows he is to be hanged in a month, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." When things are going well the sermon seems too long; when things are perilous, we listen attentively. Indeed, if the illness is grave enough, we may come to the point of understanding that to be with Christ is gain.

·         Affliction makes us attentive to God. You think not? Let me make you a comparison. Suppose, on the same day, you attend both a wedding and a funeral. At the wedding there will be champagne, there will be crude innuendoes of what will happen in the hotel that night, there will be much laughter and forgetting of sorrow. The ministers words on the seriousness of marriage will be over quickly, and the party will be long. But at the funeral - while there may be as much food, and at some as much drink - the attention of all is pointed at the common fate of man. From which of these two events do you think your spiritual life will profit the most?

Sometimes we long for life to make sense. Why do I have this job, this career? Why can't I be a rich man? Why am I suffering? If only I had this, that or the other! God says, trust me - and I will make sense of it. Perhaps not now, perhaps not soon - but at the end of all things, you will see and receive your reward.


[1] 1 Corinthians 16:1-4

[2] verse 32

[3] 1 Corinthians 10:31

[4] 1 Corinthians 4:12

[5] Colossians 3:23

[6] Matthew 6:21-23

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