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Acts 19:21-41 by Robert Dean
How can we know what is true? Listen to this lesson to learn that when mankind attempts to learn truth apart from God’s revelation, it ends in chaos and violence. Hear about Demetrius who urged the citizens of Ephesus to start a riot against Paul and his co-workers. When we study Ephesians we need to understand that we face similar problems of living in a hostile culture today. See that the solution now as well as then is to study the Word of God so that what we believe will have a direct impact on how we act.
Series:Ephesians (2018)
Duration:40 mins 41 secs

Ephesus: Christ Confronts Culture;
Ephesians Introduction – Part 3
Acts 19:21–41
Ephesians Lesson #003
October 14, 2018

Opening Prayer

“Father, we’re thankful that we have Your written Word breathed out by You through the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament, guaranteed in its accuracy and inerrancy, and infallible because it represents Your very thinking. It is to guide and direct us.

“It is to inform us of who we are and who You are, to teach us how You have solved our problem of sin and spiritual death through the death of Christ on the cross, and how You have redeemed us that we might have new life in Him, so that we can learn to walk closely with Him in this life to reflect Your essence, to reflect Your glory to those around us.

“Father, as we study today, as we prepare to get into the Epistle to the Ephesians, we pray that You can help us to understand what is going on in this culture, these believers to whom Paul is writing and especially to recognize they’re not some special group, that in fact in many ways they are very much like us, and that we may understand that and that the God the Holy Spirit would challenge us to apply the things that we learn regularly, to think more about You, and to live more consistently for You.

“In Christ’s name, amen.”

Slide 2

Open your Bible to Acts 19. This is our third part of an introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians. It’s background to understanding who these people are and to understanding the significance of this epistle.

It is an epistle that emphasizes the wealth of every one of us as believers. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 1, “The riches of Christ are ours.” We’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

The Ephesian believers needed to be reminded of that because they lived in an environment that at times could be hostile to them—not unlike the culture in which we live, because the hostility to Christianity seems to get a little more palpable each year.

Once we understand the wealth that we have in Christ—the first three chapters of Ephesians—then we are to live our lives in a certain way. The metaphor for that in Scripture is the word “walk.” How we walk is how we live, how we conduct our lives together.

The point that I’m making in this introduction is that we’re not much different from the Ephesians. They had some “little bit different” challenges here or there, but we too face similar challenges. We have to bring Christ in the Bible to a pagan culture.

The difference is that we are post-Christian, and they are pre-Christian. Thus, our culture has heard the gospel, has been saturated in many ways with biblical teaching, but our culture at this point is primarily rejecting the truth of Scripture.

For many they have heard a wrong or distorted message. They have reacted to legalism, and so they are reacting to a false message. For others, they have understood the message; some may even be saved. But they have become the enemies of the Cross because of their rejection of truth and because they wish to live out all of the desires of their sin nature.

Then there are others who are not saved, and they are in full rejection of God and of Christ and of Christianity. They are in rebellion, and they follow the footsteps of the man we will read about this morning, Demetrius the silversmith, who leads a riot against the Christians. They are antagonistic and hostile to Christianity, and they’re stirring up the masses against the Christians.

One example of this that has come to our attention over the last week: I showed a video of a newscast from Christian Broadcasting Network on Thursday night talking about the curriculum that is being implemented throughout Canada. Canada is much more liberal than we are, further down the road here.

But it’s talking about how they are teaching the entire LGBTQ philosophy in the public schools and in public libraries—even bringing various transgender people into these settings to read stories about being transgender to the kids, and basically, to make the kids very comfortable with the idea that they are gender-fluid. They can be whatever they want to be and they don’t have to be the gender that has been determined physically and biologically.

We think of this sometimes as something that is happening somewhere else, but then a report came out in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday or Saturday about the same thing happening right here in Texas, in Fort Worth. That shouldn’t be a surprise. It happened during the summer in Houston Public Libraries.

If you haven’t seen that report, you ought to go look at it. It’s up there at the beginning of Thursday night’s lesson. You ought to watch the part, when I say transgender’s coming in, I don’t know what appears in your mind, but it’s probably not the costumes that they are wearing that look very demonic.

The idea of transgender and cross-dressing and things like that wasn’t unfamiliar to those who lived in Ephesus. And the fact that this is connected to the demonic and to spiritual warfare was not something that they were unfamiliar with. This is why Paul spends time on that. We will cover that little bit later this morning, but we need to realize this is the battle.

We have a visitor here this morning who is down from Oregon, a longtime friend. I was visiting with him after class on Thursday night, and he told me that they’re just right in the center of this vortex now. His wife, having complained enough about the direction things were going, ran for school board in the town where they live in Oregon, not too far from Portland, and she got elected to the school board. 

She is organizing parents, and they are pushing back, they are providing information to school administrators and to the teachers, and they are doing a number of things and educating people as to what the law actually is in terms of parental rights over what goes on at school and things like that.  

But it has just generated a maelstrom of hostility and that’s what happens when Christians are living for the truth in the midst of a culture that is hostile. Paul told the Philippians that we are to shine as lights in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, and that, in a pagan culture, is going to generate a lot of hostility. 

We see that here in the last part of Acts 19.

Slide 3

Just to remind you, this is where Ephesus is located. It is on the western coast of what is today modern Turkey. At the time of the first century, in the early church, it was in the Roman province of Asia, which covered most of western Turkey.

Slide 4

Paul went there briefly on his second missionary journey, and then after returning back to his home church in Antioch. This line traces his third journey, where he went after visiting churches he had already founded in Galatia. He went to Ephesus and had a three-year ministry there.

Slide 5

Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at this time. So this is a major metropolitan area. You had just about anything that you could think of going on in Ephesus. You had all kinds of religions: the different mystery religions were all present there; also those who followed various philosophers. 

Just because the culture was no longer oriented to the rationalism of Plato or the empiricism of Aristotle doesn’t mean there weren’t still people who advocated that. And the same way here.  We live in a postmodern world. We live in a postmodern culture that has rejected reason and logic as part of our ability to understand truth.  

But that’s not true for everybody. There are many in this country who are unbelievers who are not operating on a postmodern view of the world. They still operate on a modernist view. It’s a mix. There are a lot of different people.

Slide 6

Last time I talked about the impact of the way we think about ultimate reality, because this is important for understanding the thinking, both the Greek philosophical tradition that’s going on and a background in this culture, as well as the religious. This gives us the intellectual tools to analyze these things.

There are four ways that we come to understand truth, as has been outlined and investigated through philosophy and intellectual thought for centuries going back to the ancient Greeks.

The chart shows these systems: the system is on the left, its starting point in the middle, and then the method on the right.

Rationalism: pure rationalism starts just with thinking in the mind and works out its principles on the basis of logic. Logic is the means of getting at the truth.  The starting point is human reason, but this is a faith in human reason. 

We have innate ideas according to rationalism, and we believe that we can properly apprehend or understand those ideas, and then our logic machine is good enough to get us to ultimate answers. The problem with it is it ends up in bankruptcy. It always has historically: there’s a cycle that civilizations go through on this.

The second is empiricism. Rationalism is a philosophy of Plato in the ancient world; Descartes in the modern world. Empiricism was the thinking of Aristotle in the ancient world, and then the empiricists like Berkeley and Locke and Hume in the modern world. 

It starts with sense perception, not ideas in the mind. The ideas of the mind is an empty slate, and then through sense perceptions, through external experience, we can come to know truth. Really you have a combination of both that end up creating the scientific method. But it too is a faith in human ability to properly interpret the data. So, both are grounded on faith perception.

In empiricism you have the independent use of logic and reason because they don’t start with the truth of Scripture; they start independently of any revelation. Rationalism and empiricism can’t get to eternal answers. Man is finite. All he can come up with is a finite answer on his own so it always leads, when it breaks down, to skepticism.

That’s what happened in the ancient world among the Greeks; it also happened in the Far East.  You had the same kind of patterns emerge where there is a breakdown in relationship to logic. Logic is used both to build up and then to destroy.

The reaction then, once you get to skepticism is, because people can’t live as if there’s no truth or no meaning. God has built something into the fabric of our image of God that we know at the very core of our being that there must be meaning. We can’t live as if life is just without purpose and meaningless. So, we leap to some sort of an irrational solution because reason has gone bankrupt.  

Mysticism is some sort of inner private experience, “I intuitively know what the truth is.” Again, it’s faith in human ability; it rejects the rational. It is ultimately irrational. 

Over against all of these is the biblical view of revelation, that God gives us the starting point. God gives us information we need without which we cannot accurately understand the world around us or the universe that He has created. So, revelation is objective: it’s revealed to us, but we use logic and reason to understand it. It’s subordinate to the revelation; it’s not independent.

In 19th and 20th century religious liberalism, they thought that reason got to the truth, so they would tear down the Bible based on human reason, and that led to the development of what we know as religious liberalism.

This is a background. This is a great tool to understand things because at the time of Paul, they’ve gone through this shift. They’re influenced by mysticism, which shows up in one way in Jewish exorcists and magic. They had what we’ve uncovered through archaeology: magical instructions on papyri on how to do magic in Ephesus. That was very much a part of the culture. They were imbued with this mystical, magical, occult, demonic idea. 

That’s why, as we saw last time when we got to Acts 19:19, many of those who had accepted the gospel had practiced magic before—that it was still part of their life. Once they realized that it was sinful, then they brought all of their occult books together and burned them all in the sight of many. These were worth a tremendous amount of money: tens of thousands of dollars.  

We see that biblical truth will change lives, but will also have an economic impact. That’s what leads into the situation with the riot that occurs in the second half of the chapter.

But let us not think that we are immune from this kind of thing. Yesterday there was an article that was published in the Washington Examiner, an interesting headline:

A large group of witches is meeting in Brooklyn this month to place a curse on Judge Brett Kavanaugh and “upon all rapists and the patriarchy which emboldens, rewards, and protects them.”

This is a fascinating little article. It starts off quoting from their website. “We will be embracing witchcraft’s true roots as the magic of the poor, the downtrodden, and the disenfranchised.” So they’re aligning themselves with social justice and with socialism, as their focal point here.

It says, “As often the only weapon that we have, the only means of exacting justice available to those of us who’ve been wronged by men just like him.” So, to solve our problems we have to go to witchcraft and the demonic. They clearly understand what they’re doing is demonic.

According to this article, it’s a sold-out event. It’s going to be live streamed on social media, and 25% of the proceeds are going to be donated to Planned Parenthood and their abortion programs. Now I want to know where the other 75% is going, but it doesn’t say.

Dakota Bracciale—I’m not sure how to pronounce this name—a “queer non-binary witch,” that’s how she defines herself. I still don’t understand what non-binary is, but that’s another issue. She is spearheading the event, and she told the Huffington Post that “witches use hexes as a radical act of resistance against oppressors.” Now this is really interesting.

She says “witchcraft has been used throughout history as a tool and ally for people on the fringes of society who will not ever really get justice through the powers that be, so they have to exact their own justice.” Sounds like a vengeance motivation to me.

She goes on to say that, “witchcraft can offer the means of exacting this justice that has been denied, so they give hexes which are ‘not something you do lightly,’ ” she says, “but it is something you have in your arsenal or toolbox.” She says, “It’s different from a binding spell. A hex is a more direct attack that engages its target in a supernatural fistfight.”

She says, “In February 2017, a group of witches sought to use black magic to subjugate US Present Donald Trump by casting a binding spell to prevent him from carrying out his campaign promises.” How’s that working for you?

Yesterday, an article in the Washington Examiner listed a remarkable 249 achievements of the Trump administration in the last two years, so it doesn’t seem to be very effective. 

It goes on to say. “the mass spell to bind Donald Trump was performed at midnight on February 24, and the group pledged to repeat the spell on every waning crescent moon until Donald Trump is removed from office.” She says, “casting the spells entails a lengthy incantation calling on spirits and ‘demons of the infernal realms,’ ” that’s their language, “to bind Trump so that he may fail utterly, that he may do no harm.”

What is being talked about here is an emphasis on spiritual warfare and that shows up a couple of times in Ephesus.

Slide 7

We see in Acts 19 is that there is opposition from the intellectual rationalists and empiricists who reject the creator God. We also see opposition from the mystics and the demonic, and then opposition from polytheism, from the worship of the idols.

Slide 8

Ephesians 1:20–23, Paul’s introduction, foreshadows the importance of understanding this spiritual warfare that we’re in—that it’s not just what we see, but there are also invisible forces—that’s fully developed later in Ephesians 6:10. 

Ephesians 1:20–23, “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at the right hand in the heavenly places …”  

So, it’s grounded in our understanding of His ascension and what Christ is doing for us now at the right hand of the Father. He ascended, “… far above”—and these terms all relate to demonic organization.

He ascended “… far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church.”

This tells us that our position in Christ is such that we don’t need to pay a lot of attention to what these witches are doing or things like that because we are in Christ and Christ is superior to everything in the universe. That’s what gives us a position of strength to be able to go in and face the demonic ideas that are being promoted in a pagan culture and in a pagan environment.

The problem in the second part of Acts 19 is one of idolatry. Idolatry is focused on many, many times in the Old Testament. But I thought that since today we observed communion, and at the Passover meal the Jews would recite from the Hallel psalms, Psalm 113 through 118, that I would show you a statement from Psalm 115, one of the Hallel psalms, that they would have sung at the Passover meal during that time of Jesus with His disciples.

Slide 9

Psalm 115:1, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth.”

Notice there’s a rationale there; it’s grounded on God’s mercy: His faithful, loyal love. And it’s grounded upon His truth, on the Word, so prayer needs to be grounded on what the Word says.

Psalm 115:2, they asked the question, “Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’ ”

This is the challenge from the pagans to the Jews, “Where’s your God?” It’s the same challenge essentially that Paul and the other believers are facing from the opposition in Ephesus.

Psalm 115:3, the answer is, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

In other words, He rules over all of these other gods and all of these other religions.

Slide 10

This applies to the worship of Artemis of the Ephesians, the great temple to Artemis that was there in Ephesus that was about twice the size of the temple to Aphrodite at the Parthenon. It is the center for just tremendous, tremendous wealth in Ephesus. People came there from everywhere. It was a major tourist destination and they bought like we do, all kinds of trinkets. So once you start getting a lot of believers in Ephesus, then that’s going to break down because they’re going to quit buying all these little amulets, good luck charms, and all of these little idols.

What are these idols? Psalm 115:4-8:

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them. So is everyone who trusts in them.

Gee! That sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? God doesn’t put up with false teachers, false teaching, idolaters, and false religions. We do not have to be politically correct.

Slide 11

This idea is echoed in Romans 1:18-20 to remind us that “… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

That’s happening in those who reject the truth; that’s what happened with Demetrius and all of those that rioted in Ephesus. And that’s what is happening in our own culture: they are suppressing the truth of God. They know God exists. It’s evident on the outside from His creation and internally, but they reject it, they suppress it.

Paul describes it this way, he says, “… because what may be known of God is manifest in them.”

God has created something, because we’re in the image of God, that speaks to us that God exists. So no matter how great an atheist and skeptic they may be, what the Scripture is saying is that they know God exists. 

Part of what we do in evangelism and with apologetics is to tweak that, so that they have to face it. Sometimes that causes a reaction of anger.

Paul says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

What lies behind this is the doctrine of God as the Creator. That’s what distinguishes biblical, Judeo Christianity from all of the other world religions. The starting point of Christian thought is that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and the seas, and all that is in them. Thus there is essentially both a rational understanding of the universe and there is also stability in the universe because God reigns.

Slide 12

It goes on to say, Romans 1:21-23:

“… because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.—that’s the process—Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

This is what has happened in the mythology that you have that is dominating the Greek world, the Roman world, much of the ancient Near East, and it develops into a polytheism or a worship of many different gods.

Slide 13

Acts 19:20. Following the episode with the exorcist last time, I pointed out that the result was that, “the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.” We see the power of grace.

Now that doesn’t mean it always happened that way or always will happen that way, for there is a lot of opposition, a lot of things that have happened. But in Ephesus, it was their testimony and their trust in the Lord that was behind the growth and the power of Christianity that transformed that culture and eventually transformed the pagan culture of Western Europe into what it became much, much later.

Slide 14

We’re told what happened in Acts 19:24. Demetrius was a silversmith and he was upset because they’d been making a lot of money as silversmiths. They made all of these little trinkets; they made these little idols of silver of Artemis of the Ephesians. 

Slide 15

She is often called the many-breasted goddess. There were clearly overtones of a fertility worship.

What that translates to for us is prosperity worship. People would come and worship, give, and buy these things, hoping that she would bless them and they would be prosperous.  It’s not any different from the materialistic philosophy that undergirds within Christianity—the prosperity gospel. And even the pursuit of wealth for its own sake in the world around us.

Slide 16

The great temple was located here.

Slides 17–19

Then, as background, the riot occurs in this huge amphitheater that is depicted also here that held an enormous number of people.

Demetrius began to rouse up all of the people. There’d been a tremendous impact for the gospel throughout all of Asia we’re already told by Luke. It has begun to transform the culture, so that the people are no longer coming and spending their money on all of these little trinkets and buying all of the little models of the temple, models of Diana and Artemis of the Ephesians. This was a moneymaking operation.

See, if they had only waited and been inventive, they could’ve started to make crosses, maybe some stars of David or something like that, and gotten ahead of the curve and kept their business going … but I’m just being facetious.

They’re losing a tremendous amount of money, and as a result, he starts to stir people up, and he tells them in Acts 19:26-27:

Moreover, you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods, which are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship.”

Slide 16

Obviously, that has been destroyed—here’s the picture of where it was located—because the gospel transformed that culture.

Then there was this reaction: they all cry out, and began to chant “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” That’s the New King James; it’s actually Artemis of the Ephesians.

The whole city is filled with confusion, and they rush into the theater. You see, they’re not thinking. They’re just being stimulated by their emotion and their pocketbooks. They have no leader, no control, and they just grabbed a couple of men that were Paul’s companions. They are going to do something to them—they’d seized them, and they’re going to punish them.

Paul wanted to get involved, but he is restrained by a group of leaders in the city that he knew called ASIARCHES, that’s the term in the Greek, and we’ve actually got archaeological evidence that that was the term that was used at that time,

Slide 20

Acts 19:31-32, “Then some of the officials of Asia—ASIARCHES—who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater.” 

Sometimes the course of wisdom is not a head-on confrontation.

Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.”

For two hours they just chant and chant. Since they can’t distinguish one monotheist from another, the Jewish community’s becoming upset because this could turn on them. So they put forward one of their leaders, Alexander. Alexander is trying to make his defense, and he can’t get anywhere. When they found out he was a Jew, they just started chanting more and more loudly, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”

Finally, a city clerk comes out and quiets them down and begins, after they have run out of emotional gas, to talk to them and give them an alternative solution. What does he do? He says we need to take him to court, and eventually he gets that through to them. If you really have a complaint and these men are truly robbing the temple, and are blasphemers of the goddess, as you claim, then you should go to the lawful assembly and have it taken care of there. And he was able to quell the riot and to dismiss the assembly.

The point that we need to take from this is that when we as 21st-century American Christians are looking at Ephesus, we’re going to see a lot of different things that are brought out by Paul. Sometimes when we look at Ephesians, we think of this— you know, it’s super spiritual and they were super special, and we don’t have an understanding that they’re just folks like us.

They’re dealing with the same kind of garbage and evil in their culture, the same spiritual warfare. They’re tempted by a lot of the same wrong ideas that tempt our people. For example, they had a problem—and part of the idolatrous worship there was the worship of Dionysus, who is the god of wine—also known as Bacchus.

They would have these Bacchanals, drunken parties, and the method there, the idea there, was that they would get drunk enough to where the spirit of the god would exchange with their spirit. And then they would start speaking in some sort of divine language that would exemplify their new spirituality.

That’s the background for understanding what Paul says when he says don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled by means of the Spirit. That spirituality doesn’t come by some kind of unification with some false god or idol, but it comes by walking by the Spirit of God.

Much that is going on in Ephesians is grounded on helping people just like you, just like me, dealing with the same kind of problems. Paul didn’t start off with what most Americans want today, that is, “Well, just tell me; get to the bottom line. Tell me how I should live.” He has three chapters dealing with our riches in Christ, the blessings that God has given us, and the fact that we have to first understand that.  

Because that sets our mental framework, so that after we’ve understood who we are in Christ, we now have a motivation and a foundation for walking and living a certain way. What we believe should have a direct impact on how we live. We saw that in Acts 19, and that’s the focal point for the epistle to the Ephesians.

We will come back next week and start into the first verse of Ephesians.

Closing Prayer

“Father, we are thankful that we have this opportunity to study Your Word, to be reminded that in this world, in the devil’s world, we are indeed involved in a spiritual conflict and angelic conflict. We are not at war with necessarily the people who we face, but with something more insidious, and that is the demonic forces that are manipulating the scenario that are behind the scenes.

“Father, we need to understand what Your Word says about who we are in Christ and all that He has given us and all that You provided for us in grace, that we may face a hostile environment, that we may live on the basis of grace and goodness and kindness toward others. Not focusing necessarily on the evil that they do, but on giving them the gospel and the solution to the problem. That we may fight it on the one hand, but show grace on the other hand. And that we may learn not only what we have in Christ but how that should affect the way we live and the way we interact with the world around us.

“Father, we pray that if there is anyone here or anyone listening to this message online that if they have never trusted in Christ as Savior that is the issue. It is not our goodness. We can never be good enough. It is not our religiosity. We can never have enough religion. 

“That is not the issue. The issue is we are born spiritually dead, because of sin, and Christ paid the penalty for sin, so that by simply trusting in His death and His death alone, we can have eternal life.

“Father, we pray that You would challenge us with what we have studied today. May it shape our thinking and transform our lives, and we pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”