Ephesus was the capital city in Asia Minor under the Roman Empire. The city of Ephesus bore the title "the first and greatest metropolis of Asia" during the days of the Romans. Ephesus was the most populous city of the most prosperous and populated province in the empire. As we continue the story in Acts 19, we will see that the writer records for us the conflict between the power of God and the supposed power of false gods and sorceries.
I. The Power of God in Ephesus: Magic Versus Miracle (19:8-22)
A. True power of God
- Paul enters the synagogue in Ephesus and begins speaking boldly for three months, trying to persuade the listeners about things related to the kingdom of God. We see a natural reaction to the preaching of the gospel: some continued to listen but others hardened their hearts and would not believe. These who hardened their hearts began to slander the Way in front of the crowds. This caused Paul to stop preaching in the synagogue and start preaching in a lecture hall. According to the Bible Background Commentary, it was common for philosophers to lecture in rented halls. Since the people of Ephesus were used to this, Paul uses this method as a way to teach the people in the city. Paul continued to preach here daily for two years. Clearly, Paul had a located work in Ephesus.
- In this chapter we also see the mighty power of God that was being worked through the hands of Paul. Even the rags that were used on Paul’s forehead to catch sweat and aprons tied around his waist while working were able to heal the sick, cure diseases, and cast out unclean spirits. I think the reason why this was happening was because it was common for magicians in those days to attempt to heal people in this manner. Thus, Paul is being shown to be a true worker of God and revealing God’s true power.
B. True power of God cannot be toyed with
- We are now introduced to a scene that we could simply call "monkey see, monkey do." We are told there are some Jewish exorcists that have seen what Paul and perhaps other Christian miracle workers have been able to do in casting out demons. They have seen Paul cast these unclean spirits out by the power and name of Jesus Christ. This was not uncommon among the magicians and charlatans of the day. The Bible Background Commentary notes, "According to magical theory, exorcists could coerce a deity or spirit to do their will by invoking its name."
- Therefore, what we see in Acts 19:13 is not the honest attempt of true followers of God trying to cast out unclean spirits. Rather, we are reading about the seven sons of Sceva who believed they could coerce the god that Paul called upon to do their bidding.
- So the seven sons of Sceva attempt to cast out an unclean spirit through this coercion. The response of the unclean spirit is amazing. "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize-but who are you?" There are two different Greek words used by the unclean spirit, though most translations use the same word "know." But the unclean spirit is saying that he knows Jesus and he is acquainted with Paul, but who do you think you are?
- Then, the man that had the evil spirit leaped on to the seven men, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out the house wounded and naked. Verse 17 is important: this event became known to all the people who lived in Ephesus. This event caused many people to confess their evil deeds. Further, many brought their books and burned them in front of everyone. After seeing the true power of God, these people were wise to turn from their false ways. This section of the story concludes by telling us that the value calculated from the books that were burned totaled 50,000 pieces of silver. Each piece of silver was probably worth one day’s wages. Therefore, if we calculate in our day and time one day’s wage multiplied by 50,000, we see that the cost of these books was at least 4 million dollars. This helps us see that the city was sacrificing quite a fortune by rejecting the ways of sorcery and magic. Thus, the Lord’s message prevailed and flourished in Ephesus.
II. The Power of God In Ephesus: Artemis Versus God (19:21-41)
A. Problems in Ephesus
- It seems that a little time passes by and another problem arises for Paul. To understand this problem, we need to understand the culture in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus had one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in its city: the temple of Artemis. Artemis was worshipped as the fertility goddess among the Greeks and Romans and was the principle deity in Asia Minor. The temple of Artemis was the tallest building of its time. The Temple of Artemis was also a major treasury and bank of the ancient world, where merchants, kings, and even cities made deposits, and where their money could be kept safe under the protection of deity, according to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.
- People from around the world came to worship the goddess Artemis. The temple of Artemis attracted worshippers who, before returning to their homes, bought small shrines and images depicting Artemis. These artifacts, which were used as objects of worship in people’s homes, were made and sold by silversmiths in Ephesus.
- There are three problems that are point out by Demetrius concerning the preaching of Paul. Verse 26 tells us that Paul had persuaded a considerable number of people that the gods made by hand are not gods. Demetrius states his three complaints:
- Loss of money (vs. 25). Demetrius states that their prosperity is derived from the business of selling these silver trinkets for people to go home and worship Artemis. Loss of reputation (vs. 27). Their business would fall into disrepute and be discredited if Paul was allowed to continue preaching to the crowds that these silver artifacts are not gods. Loss of their god (vs. 27). Demetrius realizes that if this teaching were to continue, Artemis may be despised and considered worthless by the people and her glory come to ruin.
- Once Demetrius is finished, the people were filled with rage and cried out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" The people rushed into the amphitheater and dragged out Paul’s traveling companions. The assembly was in confusion and did not give Alexander a chance to make a defense. For two hours the people of the city continued shouting, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"
- Finally, a city clerk was able to calm the crowd down. Since Paul’s companions had not done anything specifically against Artemis, like steal from the temple or blaspheme her name, they were in an unlawful assembly. If there was a true charge, Paul’s companions needed to be taken to the courts and have them tried there. The assembly themselves ran the risk of being charged with rioting. This kind of riot could lead to disciplinary measures against the city. Therefore, the crowd disbursed and went home after hearing these words.
A. The gospel impact
- How many of us, knowing the cultural background of the city of Ephesus, would have even tried to evangelize the people? They are all worshippers of pagan gods. In fact, the temple to this pagan god Artemis was in the very city. The temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The people made their money by selling silver idols and artifacts to the people in the city and around the world. But rather than simply pass by this city calling it hopeless, Paul remained in the city of Ephesus and in the region for more than 2 years. We know that the apostle John spend most of his time preaching and teaching in Ephesus also. What ought to be interesting to us is that Paul encountered the same results in Ephesus as he did in all the cities he preached in.
- The power of the gospel is consistent. Many will hear the words spoken and obey. But there will also be many who will harden their hearts to the message. We cannot assume that we are in a city devoid of God and that we are just all there are of people who care about God. The fact that we have visitors every week shows otherwise. A report came out this month that monitors the fastest growing churches in America. The 26 th, 39 th, and 91 st fastest growing churches are right here in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach. Now I realize that these churches use techniques that are contrary to the scriptures and do not do things according to God’s word. But this should tell us that people are looking in this area for God. Some are looking for the wrong things, just as we see Paul encountering in Ephesus. But there are many people who are looking for something and are willing to give God a try. We need to see the power of gospel to change lives. It could change the lives of the people in the city who were steeped in sorcery and magical arts. It has the power to change the lives of the people we meet in this city. We must do a better job in taking our opportunities and creating opportunities to reach people with the gospel. In the face of a riot, the disciples of Jesus preached the word. We have no excuse for not sharing the gospel message.
B. Sacrifices to be a disciple
- Demetrius’ words concerning the problem he and the silversmiths had with Paul is interesting. Demetrius points out that if Paul continues preaching about the living God that they were going to suffer some consequences. Demetrius points out that they would lose money, lose their reputation, and lose their god that they loved to worship and believed would protect them.
- These are the same sacrifices that must be made today to be a true disciple of Jesus. It is these sacrifices that will turn some people away. But others will be ready to make the commitment to the Lord.
- We may have to sacrifice money. We may not be able to work in a particular job and make the kinds of money we would like to have because of the cause of Jesus. There are some activities of work that Christians cannot be a part of. There are jobs that will force Christians not to be able to serve the Lord as they ought and will have to be avoided. What money we do have we will put to use in the kingdom of God rather than being wasted away on useless things. To be a disciple means such a sacrifice will eventually need to be made.
- We may lose respect. Sometimes our reputation will be called into question because we believe and serve Jesus. This is perhaps an even greater sacrifice that we confront today. We want to be liked by people. Many of us find it difficult to talk about God to other people because we are afraid of what people will think about us. People may think of us badly. But what does God think when we choose the praise of people over the praise of God? As Jesus said, we cannot be afraid of those who can kill the body, but be afraid of the one who can kill the body and cast us into eternal punishment (Luke 12:4-5).
- We may lose our god. But the greatest sacrifice we are called to make as disciples is to sacrifice our personal gods. We may deny their existence, yet each of us has personal gods that must be rejected. Some have a personal god of affluence where the pursuit of more is the most important. Others have a personal god of comfort where doing what feels right and seems best reigns supreme. Still others have a personal god of recognition, always needing others to give credit for their works. Most of us worship the personal god of selfishness where we concentrate on ourselves above anyone else. Others have the personal god of acceptance and will do anything to have the approval of other people.
- It is time for us to burn the books to these gods. It is time for us to give up our hidden closet gods that we obey in secret. These gods interfere with our personal evangelism. These gods prohibit us from becoming servants God called us to be. These gods prevent us from growing deeper in Christ and growing closer to God. If you have had difficulties drawing near to God, may I suggest you look at see what god is in the way! If you find it hard to serve God and find it a drudgery to serve God, then look and see what is getting in the way and cast it out. If we do not want to serve others, something is in the way. If we do not want to evangelize, something is interfering. If we do not want to study and read, there is something that is causing a roadblock to God. If we do not want to worship and gather together, there is something that stands between us and the true God and we must throw it out.