This morning we are going to talk about the gods we make. We might immediately think that we do not make gods. We are Christians and we do not have any other gods. But one of the things Paul had to do while preaching the gospel was expose the gods that were in people’s lives. In Acts 19 we see some of the gods that have a hold over our lives.
True Power (19:11-20)
Paul has come to Ephesus and God is doing extraordinary miracles through him. It is important to see the emphasis that God was doing the miracles through Paul. The true power belongs to God. But God was doing amazing miracles through Paul, so that even objects that touched the skin of Paul were brought to the sick and the sick were healed (19:12). We saw God showing this great power in Peter back in Acts 5:15 where people were lining the streets with the sick so that the shadow of Peter might fall on some of them.
Some Jews try to do the same thing as Paul. They invoke the name of Jesus over some unclean spirits to try to cast them out. You can see what they are thinking. They think if you say certain words over these unclean spirits then you will have control over them to cast them out. So they say to these unclean spirits, “I command you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” But look at what happens. The evil spirit answered, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” Then the man that had the evil spirit jumped on them, mastered them, and so overpowered them that these men who tried to cast out demons went out of the house naked and wounded. What an answer from these evil spirits! We know Jesus. We are aware of Paul. But who are you? Who are you to think that you are strong enough to conquer these evil spirits by yourselves?
There is an important message that is being communicated. True power belongs to God. True power does not belong to us. In many ways these Jewish men are trying to make themselves gods. They want to show that they have such power. They want people to make much of them. They want people to believe the power is within them. We have a fine way of doing this today. We make ourselves gods, telling other people to look at what we can do. I hate what we see in our world today when it comes to diseases and illnesses. We make ourselves gods. We say, “I kicked cancer” or “I conquered Covid” as if you had the power over that. We sound like the rich fool who says to other look what I did and what I could do rather than what God has done for you. By the way, what are you saying to every person who died by cancer or Covid. Are you better than them and that is why you survived and others died? The true power to maintain life and breath is not in ourselves but in God. These Jewish exorcists thought they had the power and they had to learn that only God does.
You will notice that the people of Ephesus learned this truth. Fear falls on them and they praise the name of Jesus. But notice the response of the people in Ephesus. As people became believers, they confessed and divulged their practices. They bring their books used to practice magic and burned them in the sight of all. The value of these books were calculated to be 50,000 pieces of silver. This would add up to millions of dollars in our value of money today. I want us to consider the financial sacrifice that these new believers made to follow Jesus. I want us to consider what they gave up to follow Jesus.
Maintaining Our Idolatry (19:21-41)
This sets off a great disturbance in the city of Ephesus. A man named Demetrius was a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis and he did a great business with this. It is hard for us to appreciate the significance of the city of Ephesus in the Roman world and the impact the temple to Artemis had made in that world. This temple was a draw for people to come to from all over the Roman Empire. In fact, Demetrius makes the point at the end of verse 27 that people all over Asia and the world worship the god at this temple. Further, we see this stated in verse 35 that the city of Ephesus was considered the guardian and temple keeper for Artemis and the sacred stone that fell from the sky. Ephesus had status from this idol worship. So what is the problem? Demetrius explains the problem in verses 25-27. Paul was teaching in Ephesus this important truth: gods made with hands are not gods. It is logical. If you make a god with your hands, then it is not a god. If you have power over your god, then it is not a god. If you are in charge of your god, then it is not a god.
Now it is important to consider that people in the ancient world were not stupid. We sometimes pin that on them with our cultural snobbery. But they are not ignorant. They know that they made these gods with their hands. Paul is going around the city telling people that worshiping things that are made is dumb. Gods made with hands are not gods. So why do these people not accept this obvious truth? There are two reasons why these people do not listen to Paul but riot against him. Look again at verses 25-27.
In verse 25 Demetrius says that we have our wealth from this business. We were told in verse 24 that this was a very profitable business that this idol generated for them. They have their prosperity from this pursuit. They are not going to give up their idols and turn away from Artemis and turn to the true and living God because their wealth and prosperity is tied to it. The problem is that they might lose money. I want us to consider that he is right. The text has made this point already. The believers have rejected their magic books, burning them in what amounted to millions of dollars. If we are going to truly follow Jesus, then are going to lose money. We might not have the wealth that we want to have or think we should have. We might to have to change our careers to follow Jesus. We are not going to be able to serve money to follow Jesus. We are going to need to give to each other as we see need. We are going to need to sacrifice for each other and help one another. We are choosing to not pursue wealth, prosperity, career, promotion, and comfort because we are going to follow Jesus. Gods made with hands are not gods but we will serve them anyway so that we can have the cars we want, the houses we want, the toys we want, the possessions we want, and comforts we want.
Second, look at verse 27. Demetrius says that they are in danger of their trade being discredited, losing its reputation, and counted as nothing. They are not going to give up their idols and turn away from Artemis to the true and living God because of their reputation. They are important people and they have a reputation in Ephesus and maybe even in the Roman Empire. We care what people think of us. We care about our reputation. We want people to think certain things about us. We want to be important. These people are important and they do not want to give that up. To be a follower of Jesus means making ourselves nothing like Jesus did. Remember that Philippians 2 which describes Jesus humbling himself and making himself nothing begins with the instruction to have the same attitude that Jesus had (Philippians 2:2). Followers of Jesus deflect attention away from themselves. We do not try to go around acting like we are someone important. The reputation and attention belongs to Jesus, not us. We pursue this world so that people will think we are important. We will dress in a way so people think we are important. We pick careers so that people will make much of us. Social media is all about our reputation. We want people to think certain things about us so we portray our lives so that people will praise us. Gods made with hands are not gods but we will serve them anyway so that we have a reputation and that people will think well of us or see us as important.
These are the gods we make. We make ourselves gods. We make wealth our god. We make reputation our god. Please look around our culture and see that this is what we have done. We think we are gods, so much so that we have the power to say that we are not male or not female even though you were undeniably born with either two x chromosomes or a x and y chromosome. But we are gods who can defy science. We serve the gods of wealth and prosperity, putting our hope in how much we make or what we have. We serve the gods of reputation, putting our hope in how many likes or views we receive based on something we do in our lives. But we are not gods. Wealth is not a god. Reputation is not a god. Your wealth cannot deliver you. Your reputation cannot save you. You are not a god because you cannot control if you take your next breath or not. This is what God said to Belshazzar through the prophet Daniel.
But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. (Daniel 5:23 NIV)
You are not god. You do not have that power or that knowledge. So what does God want us to learn and what does God want us to do? What is the message?
We have a choice. We can either destroy the gods we make or we can be ruled by our gods. When you are ruled by your gods, then you cannot see life properly. This is what is happening in Acts 19. They cannot understand that gods we make are not gods. They are rioting over what Paul has preached. The town clerk of Ephesus has to stop the riot by just trying to reason with them (19:35). The people have lost their minds. But this is what God says happens when we give our lives to our gods. Isaiah gave some descriptions of those who seek the gods of their desires.
They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand. (Isaiah 44:18 NRSV)
He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?” (Isaiah 44:20 NRSV)
They cannot see. They cannot understand. They do not see that they are depending on a lie. They do not understand that what they value is just a fraud. In short, your false gods will end up leaving you wounded and beaten down just like the false Jewish exorcists. The gods we make only destroy us.
The other decision before us is to destroy the gods we make. When people became believers in Ephesus, they destroyed their false gods. They burned books that were tied to their idolatry. They purged the idols from their lives. What is the point of worshiping gods that are not gods? Please consider what gods you have made in your lives that you are hoping to help and comfort you. What god have you made for your life? What is your life goal? What is your desire? What have you placed before you that once you have it or do it you believe you will be satisfied? It might be costly to destroy the gods in your life. But what is the value of your eternal soul? Will it be worth it for you to enjoy eternal paradise by making some sacrifices now? Jesus said that it is. He said that what he is offering is so valuable that it is worth selling all you have and completely changing your life to have it. Will you be ruled by the gods you have made for yourselves? Or will you destroy the gods you have made for yourselves?